Inevitably, sales leaders want to know how much time their sellers actually spend selling. Fortunately, Gartner has a seller time study tool for our clients. When I review the findings with sales leaders, there is often a “sticker shock” type of response. “Wait – they are only spending 18% of their time selling… what are they doing all day?!?” That’s a direct quote.
Problem #1 – Time, Capacity and Role design
A fair question is “how much time should sellers spend selling?” Honestly, the answer varies by what you have scoped into their role design. This is the first problem that sales leaders often fail to recognize and properly address. In a 2015 Gartner survey of 93 CSOs, 77% strongly agreed that increasing seller scope is an obstacle. It’s hard to get that many people to agree on anything.
Some sellers are asked to focus on new customer acquisition or existing account management. Others do a combination of these things. Further, many sellers are forced to sell into and service accounts. Each of these priorities represents an opportunity cost – a fork in the road. If you are traveling and come to a fork, you must go left or right. Sellers are the same way. They only have so much time in the day. They can spend it prospecting or managing relationships. They can be selling or in internal meetings. Reducing opportunity costs improves seller success as it focuses their attention and allows them to develop specific skills to boost effectiveness.
Problem #2 – Not knowing
After debating how much time sellers should spend selling, it’s fair to ask “how much time are sellers actually selling?” Sadly, most sales leaders don’t know. They may guess but based on the common occurrence of shock and awe after doing a seller time study, I don’t believe their guesses were accurate.
Anecdotally, many clients share with me that their sellers spend about 30-35% of their time selling. In a recent LinkedIn poll – which is still open at the time of writing this – two-thirds of respondents suggested their sellers spend less than 25% selling (n=78). That’s remarkable! It’s even more interesting since we are seeing seller travel time go down. So, where does the time go? From recent observations, it seems like sellers lose capacity to activities related to:
- Servicing customer issues
- Creating commercial content
- Entering data
Are these activities important? Of course. However, they represent an opportunity cost – specifically, the cost is in less time selling.
Problem #3 – Buyers Want Less Seller Facetime
Buyers preferring more rep-free interactions isn’t new but is getting more pronounced. A 2021 Gartner Digital Buying Survey revealed that 43% of buyers preferred a rep-free experience (n=979 B2B buyers). This percentage goes up for Millennial buyers.
Sales leaders must recognize this as a problem statement – or at least an opportunity – to shift seller focus to create higher-value buyer interactions. This includes revisiting role designs and the sales process. As sellers offer more value, buyers may reverse the trend of wanting to go-it-alone.
Many factors contribute to how much time sellers spend selling. Ultimately, ignorance isn’t bliss. Sales leaders must know where sellers are losing capacity and reduce low-value activities so sellers have more selling time. Additionally, sellers must examine how they can add more value to buyers. This starts with knowing the buying journey of today – i.e., the buying journey that includes a digital, self-service bias that many B2B buyers have.
To the question, how much time should sellers spend selling? I confess that I don’t know the perfect number. I know that less than 25% doesn’t feel right. I’d strive for 35-40%. That feels realistic.