Adding Time in the Sales Team's Day to Actually Sell

August 30, 2016 Mark Emmons


Doug Landis was listing all the things that can occupy the typical day of a sales rep. Administrative tasks. Prospect research. Team meetings. One-on-ones. Product knowledge training.

Notice that he hasn’t gotten to the actual “selling” part yet. There’s a reason for that. Other stuff keeps getting in the way.

“What’s really important to me is something I call ‘engaged selling time,’” said Landis, the vice president of sales productivity and chief storyteller at online file storage company Box. “How much time is a rep on the phone, talking to customers or moving a deal along the sales process? The truth is that in most high tech organizations, the number is only around 25 percent. That means 75 percent of their time is spent doing other things and not actually talking to customers.

”So the question I’m always asking is: ‘How is something going to improve our engagement time?’”

Finding those answers can be a challenge.

2871333638_4a15219343_oLandis said he works closely with the sales operations team in the single-minded pursuit of figuring out ways to make the jobs of sales reps easier. And that effort to streamline the sales process helps explain the growing emphasis on sales ops throughout the B2B industry.

“There’s no replacement for true, raw sales talent,” said Elaine Mao, who is in charge of building the first sales team at ride-sharing giant Uber as the head of sales strategy and operations/business development. “But our job is to focus that talent in a smarter way. It’s why I do everything I can to help the sales team sell just short of selling.”

It often comes down to that question about time.

SalesLoft recently released an eBook called “Houston, We have a Sales problem” that poses provocative questions about the current state of B2B sales. It cited some eye-opening research that captures the paradox of how in a time when businesses know more about prospects, sales reps are actually spending less time selling.

It noted that consulting firm Accenture found 64.3 percent of a salesperson’s time is consumed by non-selling activities. Also, a 2015 study by Implisit Insights discovered the average sales rep spends almost four hours a week updating their CRM system — more than stereotypical time-wasters like social media and coffee breaks combined. That study also determined that the typical salesperson was updating more than 60 records per day in the Salesforce CRM.

The trouble is that more data can translate into more tedious tasks. Building a smooth-running sales engine requires analyzing the insights pulled from measurable data. But conversely, there also can be a point when too much is expected of the team when it comes to accumulating that information.

You can’t be trying to make the reps more efficient and bogging them down simultaneously. So, it can become a fine line to walk for sales ops.

“If you can give your sales team a good explanation about why a process is so critical and why it will benefit them, they will be so much more inclined to do it even if they don’t love it,” Mao explained. “A great example is Salesforce. I’ve never had a rep yet who said, ‘Boy, I can’t wait to get all of my information into Salesforce!’ But they all recognize how necessary it is because that tool benefits us from a forecasting and reporting perspective as well as accelerating deals. The key piece is giving them context.”

Dhiraj Singh, the inside sales and operations manager at real-time memory database MemSQL, said it’s how he keeps his sales team focused on what really matters – automation. They invest so much in their tech tool stack because it can maximize selling time by limiting manual tasks such as prep work, researching prospects and managing leads.

“All of that takes time,” Singh said. “Minimizing that as much as possible through technology and process is the puzzle we’re trying to solve. I’m trying to create a system where nobody has to log anything, and you should be able to do that with the current technology.”

The paradox is that in a time when businesses know more about prospects, sales reps spend less time selling.

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He added that reps might think they’re extremely busy advancing possible deals when the harsh reality is they actually are spinning their wheels on busy-work.

“There can be times when people feel like they’re making progress doing important things,” Singh said. “But they’re still not actually doing the necessary activities that lead to a sale.”

Like, for instance, interacting with prospects as much as they should.

Landis said calculating an “engaged selling time” percentage requires some serious detective work. He said there are some obvious buckets of time — meetings, training sessions and so on — that can be quantified in a reps’ schedule. The sleuthing part comes by poring over data like activity metrics and doing internal interviews.

“It’s super-hard to determine, but it’s also super-important,” Landis said. “You’re trying to eliminate all the BS and noise in a reps’ daily life that gets in the way. I’d like to get the number up to 80 percent. But realistically, it’s probably possible to get up to 35 or 40 percent.”

Coming up with some kind of benchmark is difficult to do from scratch, Singh added. But he was intrigued about how Landis is approaching the problem.

“I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m seeing a metric like engaged selling time, but it sounds really interesting,” Singh said. “In fact, I want to go talk to Doug now and find out how he’s doing it.”

When it comes to giving time back to sales reps, everyone is looking for answers.


About the Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at

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