Sales reps, I respect you, but your not excused

I’ve written to you about S&OP and sales responsibility in the process. While writing I asked myself “If sales is not taking part in common planning, what are they doing instead?”. My assumption was that they were meeting customers (pitching articles that later would not be delivered).

What do sales reps spend their time on? What do I know? I have never been a sales rep so I could not say from experience. All I can say for sure is that whatever they do has a huge effect on the rest of the company.

So I turned to Google to find wisdom.

I came across several sites posting statistics. My personal favorite was the one by the “Industrial Performance Group”. They also highlighted what the best sales reps spent their time on.

I was not really surprised that the studies presented different results, but the time a sales rep is meeting the customer accounts for 10 to 45 percent of their time. That is a big variation. The effect of this is also disputed. Does more time with the customer actually lead to more sales? Summarizing the studies I would have to say that it would depend on the complexity of your product.For complicated products you don’t win the sales by meeting the potential customers and sell your product, you win when you meet the potential customer and explain the product based on their needs. Sales reps need to do their homework, because without that, it is just going to be a pointless meeting. The most successful sales reps also spend most of their time prospecting and qualifying — twice as much time as average salespeople. To sum this up I’ll quote Theodore Levitt:

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole

A part of the surveys that caught my eye was that up to 14% of the time is spent on problem solving and customer service. I’ve seen this happen so I wasn’t surprised that it was one of the things that turned up, but it’s a huge time consumer. Sales reps that prepared better had considerably less time spent in cleaning up. This not only gives benefits to the sales rep, it saves the company a lot of money. The worst sales reps are the ones who land a lot of deals and then leave it up to the rest of the organization to clean up the mess. They usually hit or exceed all the sales targets, so their hard to reason with and the sales managers are scared of losing them.

On the other hand my boss, Stefan, wrote a great blog in the Swedish sales process blog on the need hunters in poor times. You can probably translate it in Google translate. If the farmer’s conditions are too poor to make the crops grow, there is a problem. I could not agree more. This becomes the time of the hunter, the sales cowboys as I call them. They ride out into the sunset and come back with whatever they can catch, and it’s not always appetizing or even eatable. The problem from a supply chain perspective is that if all the sales reps are renegade cowboys, who’s taking care of the farm? And if all that lands in the supply chain is risk prone, how can they deliver? That might be the current situation on the barren market that you are facing, but then you need to be prepared for the costs and the delivery issues that follow…because they will come. It should be a strategy set by the company as a whole, not just the random result of sales. The supply chain can take this more flexible strategy, choose the propper supplliers, sign more flexible contracts and be prepared for more random orders. It will cost more, but save money and customer relations in the long run.

These where the two major areas where the statistics pointed in the same direction.

Now what am I doing writing about sales reps time? Because it is not their time, it is company time and they are all over the place it’s because you are not managing them. Creativity in a framework, that’s what you need to create.

  • Because you’re never going to get a grip of sales reps time without a sales strategy, a well-defined sales process, a sales plan and a formalized connection to your supply chain.
  • You will not understand how much time you need in the field, you will never be well prepared and your sales reps will take risks on the company’s behalf to land orders.

It’s just not a good way of making money. That’s why.

After this study I have even more respect for sales reps. You do not have an easy job, but I still can’t excuse your foolish behavior from a supply chain point of view. In the end a bad deal is a bad deal, no matter what the intention or excuse is.


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