Using Sales Time Efficiently

Not surprisingly, studies confirm that the best sales reps are those who manage their time effectively.16 One popular efficiency tool is configurator software to automate the order preparation process. This type of program is offered by Massachusetts-based Concentra Corporation, among others. On a sales call, reps can use configurator software to present product specifications and pricing information, show customization options, and handle scheduling. Integrating all of this information, the configurator software can virtually write up the order in minutes. This software not only saves time; it also builds goodwill by reducing errors and letting both customer and supplier see the same information from the same source. Concentra's customers say this software has helped them increase sales and reduce cancellations.17

Another tool is time-and-duty analysis, which helps reps understand how they spend their time and how they might increase their productivity. In general, sales reps spend time in (1) preparation (getting information and planning call strategy);

(2) travel (which can be more than 50 percent of total time); (3) food and breaks (some portion of every workday); (4) waiting (to see buyers); (5) selling (time spent with the buyer); and (6) administration (writing reports, billing, attending sales meetings, and so on).

With so many duties, it is no wonder that actual face-to-face selling time can amount to as little as 25 percent of total working time!18 To improve sales force productivity, many companies train their reps in the use of "phone power," simplify record-keeping, and use computerized methods to develop call and routing plans and to supply reps with customer and competitive information.

Seeking to reduce the time demands on their outside sales force, many firms have increased the size and responsibilities of their inside sales force. Inside salespeople are of three types. Technical support people provide technical information and answers to customers' questions. Sales assistants provide clerical backup for the outside reps by confirming appointments, carrying out credit checks, following up on deliveries, and answering customers' questions. Telemarketers use the phone to find new leads, qualify and sell to them, reactivate former accounts, and give more attention to neglected accounts.

The best sales reps spend time getting to know their customers' preferences, needs, and buying patterns so they can plan their calls accordingly. Technology speeds up this process. For example, before telecommunications reps at TimePlex go on a sales call, they use their laptops to dial into the firm's data network and retrieve status reports on that account's previous orders and other background information. When deals are struck, the reps use their laptops to record each order, double-check for errors, and then transmit everything electronically to the firm's New Jersey headquarters.19

In addition, Internet technology is helping to make prospecting more efficient. Company Web sites provide an introduction to self-identified potential customers and, for some businesses, may lead to on-line orders. For more complex transactions, the site provides a way for the buyer to contact the seller—for example, through a link to an e-mail address. The Pall Corporation, which makes fluid filtration and purification technologies, has all e-mail directed to company headquarters, with leads going directly to the appropriate sales rep. The quality and quantity of leads generated by its Web site (www.pall.com) has prompted the firm to promote its home page more aggressively.20

As another example, Lucent Technologies (www.lucent.com) combines e-mail with Web marketing to generate more qualified sales leads. A typical campaign starts with an e-mail inviting prospects to learn more about a particular offer (and qualify for a free gift) by visiting a customized Web page. Once there, prospects answer a few qualifying questions and can then request information to be sent by mail. Lucent's automated system separates these leads based on product needs, and contacts the best prospects 2 weeks later, offering free, downloadable software for analyzing total product costs. Prospects who choose the download are considered hot leads, so the system sends Lucent's sales force complete contact data on these prospects for immediate follow-up. "We never had to pick up the phone, and we've already established a relationship with them," notes Lucent's senior manager of marketing services.21

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