How much valuable selling time are you wasting?

When it comes to sales productivity and sales performance, many companies are shortchanging themselves and unfairly blaming their salespeople for poor sales performance results.

How can that be? Well, too many businesses pay salespeople for business development and then lumber them with non-revenue, non-customer oriented activities such as administration, unnecessary internal meetings, service delivery or transactional account problems. And whilst acknowledging that these are very much a part of managing the client’s experience and classified under the sales portfolio, the haphazard manner in which these are structured does little to encourage optimal live and productive sales activity on the part of the salesperson.

In a recent study conducted by Barrett we found that amongst salespeople in Australia, South Africa and Europe, too many companies are restricting the effectiveness of their sales forces by overburdening their salespeople with functions that should and could be performed more efficiently by a sales support team and other non-revenue generating functions in the company. However, many companies, often too busy to stop and reflect on what is optimal for their business, rarely take the time to actually look at how their salespeople are investing their time.

Interestingly though, when companies perform a Sales Activity Assessment on their sales operations including running time-in-motion studies on their field sales teams and speaking to customers, they often find that the their salespeople are doing anything but selling.

Here is an example of a recent sales activity assessment time-in-motion study on the activities of a large Australian field sales force that was experiencing a steady decline in sales revenue. Their results were compared to an international benchmark for sales activities.

The international benchmark for sales activities in major cities, against which this company’s sales force activities are being compared reveals that salespeople on the road (as opposed to call centres) spend time, in each of the six areas of sales activity, as revealed in the table below:

Sales Activity Model Barrett Client Company
Prospecting 15.46% (6.95 hours) 6% (2.7 hours)
Face-to-face selling 18.9% (8.51 hours) 19% (8.55 hours)
Servicing customers 16.8% (7.56 hours) 13% (5.83 hours)
Organisational activities 22.02% (9.91 hours) 36% (16.2 hours)
Travelling and waiting 19.01% (8.55 hours) 20% (9 hours)
Personal/Miscellaneous activity 7.82% (3.52 hours) 6% (2.7hours)

*Based on a 45-hour working week

** “Face-to-Face Selling” is defined as those meetings where the intent of the sales person making the call was to induce a purchase, as opposed to relationship building, service, problem solving calls etc.

As can be seen from the Barrett Client Company study, whilst there are differences in some of the areas, particularly the amount of Organisational Activity (Client company x 36.0% against a model of 22.02%) and Prospecting (Client Company 6.0% against a model of 15.46%), in the crucial area of face-to-face selling, there is no great variance between the client company and the model.

Specifically, in the Barrett Client Company study you will notice that the salespeople in this business are being pulled into Organisational Activities and Servicing Customers 49% of the time, which means the salesperson’s time is spent in administration, organising and transactional customer service activities instead of being invested in what they are paid to do, and that is selling.

This issue is not only the problem of this company.

What is also evident, from both the Barrett Client Company study and international models is that salespeople have very little time to perform their primary responsibilities – i.e. induce a purchase (face-to-face selling).

Note: The international benchmark presented here does not equal the notion of Best Practice. It is just representing the current state of play in the field sales force world.

We understand that a field salesperson cannot be selling 100% of the time; however, giving salespeople the space and time to sell is critical.
As a salesperson, we need and want to do as much as we can for our company and our customers. But in the end, a salesperson’s and a sales team’s success is going to be measured in terms of targets achieved or missed.

So if you are in a sales team that spends 15% or more of its time on these distractions it’s time to talk to your sales management and senior leadership group.

Ask what they expect: More sales or more time on service and deliveries?

If it’s the latter, ask them to reduce your sales targets so that you don’t feel as if you are underachieving. If you do then you’ll soon find sales management and senior leaders will find other ways to address these distractions that keep you from selling and instead let you get on and sell.

If this is an issue for you and assess your Sales Team’s Sales Intelligence and current perception of their roles or conduct a Sales Activity Assessment on your business please contact us on (+61) 03 9533 0000 or email

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit


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