Time is precious, especially when you’re working towards big sales targets. Here are five productivity draining problems that plague today’s sales teams – along with tips for banishing them from your business… 

1. Email

Some days, it's easy to feel like you’re drowning in email. And while your sales team are reading, checking and replying to email – particularly internal email – they are not fulfilling their core role of selling. If your sales staff are having meetings and then sending emails round to update everyone on progress afterwards, for example, the whole team is spending time being interrupted by information that they may not need at that point. It's much more efficient if client updates are shared directly into your CRM rather than being sent to the team via emails that then have to be dug out at a later date.

The importance of sharing information in a way that doesn’t disrupt workflow is backed up by psychological research. Being absorbed in the task at hand is known as ‘flow’ or, more colloquially, as being ‘in the zone’. People are generally most actively productive when they are in a flow state. This tends to occur when a person faces a clear set of goals that require appropriate responses. But if you are absorbed in a task and then interrupted – for example by a non-essential email – it takes around 20 minutes to get back into a flow state.

Making sure the right information is available in the right context allows people to concentrate on what matters and so improves sales productivity. So if one of your sales team needs to understand your company’s history and relationship with a client, they don't have to trawl through their emails – potentially missing the crucial one. Instead they can find it in the client record when they need it: a far more productive solution. 

A CRM allows employees to access this kind of information as and when they need it. It keeps records centralised and accessible to everyone who needs them. An enterprise social network can also help your team collaborate and share information beyond customer details. Whether it’s industry news or an upcoming team event it is a much easier, and less disruptive, way to share. Email will always have its place, of course, but streamlining your sales team’s inboxes in this way can only impact productivity positively. 

2. Admin  

Employees only spend 45% of their time on primary job duties, according to a US survey by AtTask and Harris Poll. Around 14% of time is spent on email, the research found, while the remaining 41% goes on meetings, administrative tasks, and ‘interruptions’. Just imagine how much more productive your team could be if some of this time could be clawed back to focus on the core task of selling… 

The primary things workers thought would solve their problems were more resources (23%) and more efficient work processes (18%). So consider: Where can you streamline processes, cut inefficiencies and reduce duplication of effort? You need to find ways to make sure the team's focus is on the customer relationship and selling, and to minimise the admin burden. 

Many admin issues can be solved by ensuring information is organised efficiently using the appropriate tools. A well-managed email system can be valuable, as can a CRM system which lets you store all the info you need about each customer under a single record. A cloud-based CRM system has the added benefit that it can be updated instantly from anywhere with a smartphone or other mobile device.

A CRM system with sales force automation capabilities will allow you to streamline work processes such as: creating automatic email alerts for deals over a certain threshold size, auto-assigning tasks as deals move through the sales pipeline, and speeding up the approval process for business requests such as deal discounts and travel expenses.

You should also be able to set up dashboards that give you real-time information and analytics, and generate reports. Busy teams can share this real-time customer data without worrying about version control or multiple copies. 

3. Meetings 

Most businesses use a mix of formal and informal meetings, ranging from the regular team meeting to the chat in the kitchen as you brew a cup of tea. Meetings can be used to share information, set priorities and update people about targets. But they can also be a real drain on sales team productivity if they’re not well-run and don’t include the right people. They also tend to expand to fit the time allotted – you’ll use up an hour’s time booking even if you could get things done in 30 minutes. 

So take a hard look at all your meetings. Do you need them all? Or could you free up diaries to concentrate on those that really matter – and make sure the right people attend them? The GRPI model, developed by Richard Beckhard, is a great example of a framework to get the most out of the meetings you do have. 

With client meetings, you’ll want your sales team to be thoroughly prepared to understand what client’s needs and difficulties are, and the objections they could potentially raise to a sale. They need to understand exactly where you are in the sales funnel and what conversations have already taken place. They’ll want to be able to easily check beforehand that they’re up to date on agreed actions, such as sending the prospect a brochure or case study. 

But without such information being stored centrally, hours can be wasted trying to fill in gaps in client records with emails and phone calls. 

Time spent travelling to meetings can also be a waste of productivity. For salespeople who spend a lot of time on public transport, the ability to work deals on the go is essential. With a mobile CRM system, there’s no need to wait to get back to the office to update the client record. It can be updated immediately while it’s fresh in the memory, so it’s likely to be more accurate too. 

All of this can help increase sales productivity for teams on the go. Our customers have seen an average 40% increase in sales productivity from using the Salesforce1 mobile app, for example. 

4. Low-quality leads 

Not every lead is going to turn into a sale. Just think about the number of times you walk into a shop then walk out again without buying anything. The same applies online – not every visitor to your site is going to convert. 

Among your leads there will be people who have ended up there accidentally, and even people who intended to visit but who aren't necessarily in buying mode. There might be a journalist who wants to know what you have to say about developments in your industry, or a competitor who is just checking you out. And even if people are interested in you, they may not be able to afford your services. 

So how do you evaluate your leads to filter out the low-quality ones?

The tried-and-tested approach to grading leads is to look at a prospect’s Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline (BANT). But the ease of researching buying decisions on the Internet has changed the sales funnel: research has found that as much as 57% of the buyer’s journey to a purchase decision may now happen before they even make contact with your organisation and give you the opportunity to use BANT scoring at all.

As a business you need to understand what makes a good qualified lead based on experience and analysis, and define your criteria accordingly. A consistent lead-scoring method will ensure that fewer low-quality leads make it through to sales, meaning that your sales team can concentrate on the ones that are most likely to turn into business. 

In addition, making sure your marketing and sales teams are aligned on target customers and business goals will minimise the time wasted on unlikely prospects. Otherwise, if you have a marketing campaign that is not well targeted, you could end up with lots of visitors who may be keen on finding out more about your campaign but not necessarily your product or service. Or you might end up with prospects that aren’t the right size to need your services, or a lead from the right kind of organisation but who isn’t a purchase decision-maker. 

5. Time-wasters

Every salesperson has met a time-waster – the potential customer who makes the right noises but is forever kicking the tyres in the forecourt without ever signing a deal. Often these are people who intend to stick with their current supplier but who just need to get quotes as part of a procurement process or to use to get a better price for their existing agreement.

Rooting out the time-wasters is just one of the benefits of having a defined view of your ideal potential customer and learning to evaluate prospects accordingly. Your sales conversation can cover how well the prospect meets these criteria, for example the problem they need solving, the budget available, and when they expect to sign off a deal. 

It's hard to walk away from a prospect, but you must evaluate which of your opportunities represent the best use of your time. Using a consistent lead-scoring method can help guide you towards the best prospects. 

Where to start? 

Sometimes getting on top of these kinds of productivity killers can feel like trying to turn an oil tanker around. But it could be easier than you first thought. The key is to start somewhere: choose one issue that will quickly allow you to show results – and which can then give you the traction and internal momentum to tackle other challenges. 

For example, adding in an additional question on your download form might help you better qualify a lead. Turning a meeting fortnightly instead of weekly – and making sure the key people always attend – might free up valuable resource without damaging internal communications. 

Automating some processes to free up time can certainly help too, for example, figures from both large and small companies across all industries using Sales Cloud show a 52% increase in lead volume, a 27% boost in win rate and a 34% rise in sales revenues. Your sales team is probably facing these challenges, it’s just a case of figuring out which is the most important to fix.

Find out more about how you can improve your sales team productivity and all the other benefits of CRM by reading Your Complete CRM Handbook