In a previous role I held, the signs were posted everywhere when you walked into work – "No personal electronic devices allowed beyond this point." For five years, I left my smartphone in the car or dropped it off at the front desk before heading into the office. While that might sound crazy to some, it wasn't that long ago. Plenty of workplaces, particularly in government, still have policies like this in effect today. Even as a Millennial who loves to be connected as much as the next person, I didn’t think it seemed like a big deal at the time – work was offline and personal electronics were not allowed. Fast forward to the life of a sales rep and sales enablement manager – and the phone, with all its information available at an instant, became a big deal. It was a constant challenge putting out fires while achieving the the big objectives.
To aid in my transition from a practitioner to analyst role, I picked up a great book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. It covers a lot of ground, but one of its central ideas is that in order for today's workers to produce at an elite level, they must rapidly master an increasing number of very difficult skills. And often, the only way to meet that increased learning demand is through incredible focus on a particular task. But the modern workplace makes that challenging – more and more of today’s offices have open floor plans, and employees are often encouraged to engage heavily on social media. There's just no escaping the siren call of the Internet in your daily job.
The book reminded me about a key focus of sales enablement: making reps more productive. In a lot of ways, enablement is already aware of the distraction issue. It's widely recognized that reps are getting slammed with more content and communications than ever. Increasingly educated buyers demand more insight from sellers, which feeds the need for more information. But distraction doesn't end with content and communications. In enablement, we should consider the entire span of a rep's daily activities. While a rep needs to check email and be more responsive to customers than a software developer, there are aspects of the job where deep work and focus are required. Researching a new buyer, developing account plans and maintaining focus during more tedious activities (e.g. cold calling) are all situations where a distraction-free environment helps. Willpower is a finite resource in every person's day – if a work environment contains elements that further promote distraction, rep productivity could be drained even faster.
When I was a SiriusDecisions client, one of the most valuable activities I engaged in was the Relative Productivity Study. As with a time and motion exercise, SiriusDecisions conducted a survey with our reps where they would self-report on what a typical week looked like on a per-hour basis, based on pre-defined categories. The data we collected seemed reasonable and within the bounds of a productive sales team. But when we compared the self-reported data to activity metrics we tracked internally, we were surprised by the disconnect. Nearly every rep had a different perception of how much core selling activity they were doing (e.g. speaking to prospects) vs. the reality. As is the case at many organizations, we knew most of the reps worked hard and took their jobs seriously. But looking back, I suspect there were small distractions and issues cropping up during the course of the day that even the most productive reps weren't aware of that sapped them of their ability to perform at a higher level.
At SiriusDecisions, we define activity-based enablement as the act of gaining a detailed understanding of the daily activities sales reps perform, and then examining ways to improve efficiency, maximize effectiveness and/or optimize the ability to engage a buyer in each of those workflows. Small changes can equal big productivity gains. Sales enablement, in partnership with sales operations, can have a big impact on eliminating waste and allowing for more productive time in a rep's day.
With the increasing demands placed on sales teams, it's even more important to get the simple stuff right. Consider surveying your own sales team – ask them what they're engaged with on daily basis, observe their activity in the workplace, and then map out their activities and collaborate with sales oeprations to eliminate, expedite or automate workflows that inhibit peak performance. You'll be surprised by how even these simple, cost-effective changes can make the difference in a sales team's success.
Peter is a driven research analyst for the Sales Enablement Strategies (SES) service at SiriusDecisions. As an analyst, he works with clients to implement best-in-class research and frameworks that pertain to sales enablement organizations across a wide spectrum of industries.