Sales Process Productivity: 5 Best Practices & 20 Key Questions

While many businesses make efforts to improve production, distribution, and various administrative work processes, it is less common to find organizations that focus on applying the fundamentals of Continuous Improvement to the sales process.

However, our research and experience indicate the selling process is more complex than many people realize. In addition, we have consistently found that the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing, and excessive costs in sales-related processes.

So, leaving aside the “selling skills” or “charisma” associated with those perceived as the most successful sellers, when you consider the day-to-day activities required of field-based or outside sales professionals, there are some proven best practices that can help boost field-day efficiency, which include the following five:

  1. Pre-call planning: by planning each sales call in advance, in writing, sales people can position themselves to accomplish more in less time, thus increasing personal productivity as well as accelerating overall cycle-time. Not only will running more comprehensive sales calls increase efficiency, but the habit will also make a stronger, more positive impact on customers. Many who have embraced this best-practice report that their customers recognize the difference and, over time, become more willing to schedule meetings or sales calls, thus enabling them to more easily make more calls each day, an important part of the job as noted in the next bullet.
  2. Set a daily call volume goal. This may sound like an unnecessary step, but a surprising number of sales people are unable to quantify the actual average number of sales calls they make each day. As author Jack Falvey has said, “Want more sales? Make more calls.” By setting a personal goal, which will vary depending on the nature of each territory, sellers are often able to self-motivate more effectively and make more calls per day.
  3. Geo-plan: by creating a strategic geographic or travel plan for each day, outside sales people can minimize drive time and optimize “face” time. The best plans will begin by creating territory quadrants and then mapping the locations of customers and key prospects. The rule-of-thumb is to avoid traveling beyond two quadrants in any given day, so when an appointment is set in one area, try to schedule meetings or plan to visit others in the same general region to enable a maximum number of interactions in a minimum amount of time.
  4. Bookend each day by scheduling an appointment early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. This will promote “staying the course” as opposed to deciding to drive back to the office early to do administrative work. This best-practice might also help to achieve item #2 above.
  5. Try to schedule next steps (i.e., follow-up meetings, conference calls, etc.) “on the spot” before the conclusion of each sales call. This simple best practice can significantly boost efficiency for two reasons. First, it helps sales people more easily populate their calendars for future selling days in the field; and second, it can help shorten selling cycles by securing time with buyers sooner than could be done otherwise.

But the sales process extends well-beyond a day in the field, as it encompasses everything from identifying a lead to delivering a solution.

Considering this broad spectrum, it is really not surprising that the largest waste within most businesses can be found in the sales area.

The first step toward improvement – that is, moving from “where we are now to where we’d like to be if everything were right” – is to identify specific areas of sales process waste, and a good way to start might be to answer the following 20 questions:

  1. What is our current market share?
  2. What are our customers’ requirements?
  3. How well are we meeting these requirements?
  4. What would it take to truly delight our customers?
  5. How long does the sales process take from lead to sale?
  6. What is our lead conversion ratio?
  7. What were the top 3 reasons for lost sales over the past quarter?
  8. How many calls do our sales people make, on average, each day?
  9. How much time do we spend talking with uninterested or unqualified leads?
  10. How do we continually improve our sales team’s skills and habits?
  11. What percentage of prospects contact us first?
  12. How does this percentage (#11) compare with industry data?
  13. Does the sales process take less time to complete for inbound leads? If so, how much less?
  14. What is our response time to customer or prospect inquiries?
  15. How many customer complaints do we receive?
  16. How much time do our sales people spend interceding or responding to complaints?
  17. What is done with the information associated with customer complaints?
  18. How do customer complaints or how does customer dissatisfaction impact our ability to make sales?
  19. How often are discounts extended, and what is the average discount?
  20. Are discounts offered due to competition or in response to dissatisfaction?

Clearly there are many ways to analyze and improve the productivity of an organization’s sales process, but these five best practices and twenty questions are good starting points.

Create a Successful Space: A Time and Place for Productivity

Do you have high priority activities that are not happening? Do you care about them getting done, but can’t seem to find the time? How you design your space will help to implement these tasks. Unfortunately, “important” activities for our business and life productivity are often ones that require personal discipline. Things like: reading, studying, research, administration, follow-up, writing, sorting, filing, billing, etc. While these activities are important, they often do not get attended to until they are urgent. When we find ourselves operating in the urgent quadrant, we usually get less done and feel stressed, pressured and overwhelmed. Operating from this place causes LOW productivity. With so many demands, how can you be more productive?

Productivity happens when we do what is important in a focused and efficient manner. In our Bible Study group, we discussed having “sacred” place for our daily quiet time. While this is something I HAVE done for my business and life, I had NOT done this for my personal Bible Study time. It had been an old intention that never happened. It compelled me to do this for myself and also review the importance that designed ENVIRONMENTS make. Designed spaces will improve your productivity.

What activity, when done regularly, will increase your overall productivity and results? Pick one that is IMPORTANT for you to accomplish but seems to get ½ done, put off, never gotten to or simply forgotten? Pick an activity that is the same and reoccurs. Reading. Phone calls. Study. Pick something that is important to do regularly and create a space that will be meaningful and beneficial.

Follow these 4 steps to design a productive environment to make it a reality.

1) WHY? Know why this is important to you and make it a routine (habit). Create a structure your body will instinctually remember and return too. When you pass the “spot” you will think, “Oh, I have to… ” When you sit there, you will move into autopilot and start performing the task. Your body posture can help your mind get and stay focused. If you sit down to return phone calls in a pile of papers, in front of your e-mails, looking at the dust on your desk, you will be hard pressed to stay focused on the IMPORTANT task you have set out to do.

2) WHERE? Pick a place that you will go each time you do this. Think about what kind of space you need to focus and accomplish the task. Do you need a writing surface, do you want to feel comfortable (sit on a couch or comfy spot), do you want to feel energized (sit by light or fresh air), do you need a phone or computer? Determine the best location for you to do this task where you can minimize distraction and stay focused.

3) WHAT? Gather your tools. What do you need to do this task? What will inspire you? What will you do? What props or prompts do you need? Things like a clock, coaster for your drink, motivation quote or photo, notebook (jot notes or list things that come into our mind as you are focusing), pen, books, phone, plant, etc. Put all your tools for this activity in this one place, so you don’t waste time gathering them or getting distracted on your way to do this. Leave the tools there so you can do the activity quickly, easily and effortlessly whenever you go to this place.

4) WHEN? Pick a consistent time to be in this place. If it is professional reading or study time, maybe it is at 7 AM each morning. Decide how long you will do it. Set a timer to keep yourself on track. You stay there until the beeper goes off. It is hard at first, but discipline yourself to honor this time for your important task and it will become a habit and reality.

When you have a routine, a place, time and system for this “productivity,” activity it is more likely to get accomplished. Other demands, crisis and urgencies of the day will not get in your way. A system that includes all aspects of your environment will guide, inspire and guard you against making it a desire and intention that never gets implemented. Take 10 minutes and set yours up today!

Time Management Tips – 5 Ways Introverts Can Supercharge Their Productivity

Time management tips are the ultimate energy tools. To select the right tools for your energy type, take the quiz below. If you discover you are an introvert, prepare to magnify your effectiveness by using time strategies designed to capitalize on your unique attributes.

According to Marti Olsen Lani, author of The Introvert Advantage, introvert strengths include independence, capacity to work well in one-to-one situations, ability to concentrate closely on tasks, creativity, and capacity to analyze systems.

If you are introverted, your experience of time may differ dramatically from that of your extroverted colleagues. So apply your creativity and originality to making the most of time in ways that celebrate your uniqueness.

Quiz: Do You Possess an Introvert Time and Energy Temperament?

___ T/F: I think through what I need to say before speaking.

___ T/F: When working with others, I can run out of energy with no warning.

___ T/F: My creativity is fueled through solitude.

If you answer these questions with “True”, then the 5 tips in this article apply directly to you. Briefly stated, your introvert strength multiplies when you remove distractions and look inward. At the same time, you need to protect your energy in situations that extroverts find regenerating.

5 Ways Introverts Can Supercharge Their Productivity

  1. Estimate your “battery life” for group interchanges and plan accordingly.

    How long can you engage at top capacity in a large group situation? Plan how you can obtain ‘time outs’ to recharge your internal batteries before walking into challenging situations. (Introverts can find it difficult to monitor and safeguard their reserves while absorbed in demanding interchanges.) Your exit strategies may include volunteering for tasks that temporarily remove you from the fray, or that allow you to record rather than directly engage in interactions.

  2. Schedule private time between group activities whenever possible.

    Restorative sips of time are an excellent investment in your effectiveness. If a relaxed, solitary interlude is not possible, consider taking small breaks of five to ten minutes between meetings, if only to make photocopies or fetch supplies. While on your own, conduct a quick body scan and progressively relax tense muscles, while taking a few deep breaths.

  3. Structure collaborations as one-on-one interchanges whenever possible.

    Identify which individuals you work with most easily, and ask if they would be willing to serve as point persons to report findings to groups. Volunteer to cover responsibilities you find less taxing, in return. When you must discuss issues within a group, explore the possibilities of teleconferencing. This reduces the intensity of stimulus you are exposed to.

  4. Know your “solitary strengths” and capitalize on them.

    Invest your time in your areas of personal strength. The more detailed your understanding of how you can best contribute to group endeavors, the more capably you can engage in ways that don’t drain you.

  5. Commit to checking in as regularly as needed through email and notes.

    You can send memos with your comments and suggestions after meetings. Remember, your extroverted colleagues may feel stranded if you withdraw without providing a context.

Comprehension fuels creativity, so always be on the lookout for new possibilities as you explore your unique relationship with time.

So now, ask yourself: How can you customize your time use today to jump-start your personal productivity?