HBR: 3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

How do you handle your low-value work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark.

3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

We’d all like to spend our time at work on high-value activities: setting strategy, fostering innovation, mentoring promising employees, and more. But every professional faces a relentless deluge of niggling tasks — the overflowing inbox, the introductions you promised to make, the stack of paperwork you have to file, or the articles you really ought to read.

This low-value work is particularly vexing in light of the Pareto Principle, the adage — now gospel in Silicon Valley and many business circles — that 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of the value you create. If you can jettison what’s least important, the thinking goes, you can double down on what’s driving your most important contributions.

Indeed, sometimes you can let go of these activities. But you have to recognize, and reconcile yourself to the fact, that there is a price. Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, advocates this approach. After one extended trip abroad during which he avoided email, he wrote that he had missed a large number of critical messages, including a fulfillment center crisis that caused him to lose more than 20% of monthly orders for his business, media interview opportunities that had expired, and more than a dozen partnership offers. Rather than mourning these lost chances, however, he embraced them. “Oftentimes,” he wrote, “in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”

Perhaps. Though if you work for someone else, rather than being self-employed, the tolerance level for these missed opportunities is a lot lower. If you can’t afford to ignore email or other low-value tasks entirely, and your options for delegating to others are limited, here are three techniques you can use to minimize the pain and get things done.

One possibility is to batch your less important tasks and accomplish them in one fell swoop, creating a sense of momentum. You can do this solo — I used to park myself at a local café and vow not to come home until I’d completed my to-do list for the day — or, in some cases, communally. New York filmmaker Jeremy Redleaf recently launched “Cave Day,” an event in which professionals pay a small fee to spend a Sunday at a coworking facility, plowing through tasks such as cleaning your inbox and writing thank you cards.

Another technique, for those who prefer an incremental approach, is the “small drip strategy.” This involves identifying small blocks of time in your schedule (typically 15–30 minutes per day) and matching them with low-value tasks that need to be accomplished. Yesterday I had to look up how much I had paid my virtual assistant last year in order to get the information to my accountant, so he could issue her tax forms in a timely fashion. That’s no one’s definition of “strategic” or “high value.” It’s a boring, but mandatory, task that would be easy to put off. But when I reviewed my calendar the night before and saw I had a 15-minute window between two calls, I slotted it in and accomplished it. You can look for these scheduling holes serendipitously, or deliberately schedule in a half-hour of grunt work every day, perhaps at the end of the workday, when most professionals’ energy is waning and your ability to do creative thinking has tapered off.

Finally, you could procrastinate strategically. This differs from simply ignoring all incoming email, Tim Ferriss–style. What you do is weigh the value of the opportunity and set your own timeline for handling it. If the timeline happens to work for the other person, it’s a happy coincidence; if it doesn’t, you’ve already reconciled yourself to the possibility of missing out. I’ll often take this approach when it comes to requests from miscellaneous bloggers. I respond quickly to inquiries from official journalists, but if someone is writing a post for their personal blog, I’d like to help them out, but don’t want to sacrifice an important task (such as finishing book edits) to do so. I always write back eventually, but it may take me a number of days, or even weeks. If they can still use my quote, fantastic; if they can’t, it’s only a minor loss.

 

No matter how productive we become, we’re never going to permanently rid ourselves of low-value work. By following these strategies, we can at least handle it more efficiently and leave more white space in our days for the projects that are truly meaningful.

Open: Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

Do you want to increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself? Below is a blog from the OPEN Forum Articles by Shel Israel.

Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

A few weeks ago I wrote about United Linen, a professional laundry service. Looking back, I think there are some valuable lessons small businesses should learn from they way United embraces and supports their community.

United shows a commitment to its physical community in various ways. For example, they began posting hometown team sports scores through their social media channels, and more recently, they started promoting the local symphony orchestra. During winter, United gets road conditions from their truck drivers and reports back to residents.

In short, United uses social media to report on and champion their local community. They’ve chosen a wise and valuable strategy—one that you might consider taking with your business.

Small business has clearly embraced social media. We see all sorts of cases of how little guys in corner stores or home offices have defied geographic boundaries by going global. But most small business is not going to go global. They depend upon people who live within a few miles of their store or office.

The question becomes: what should you talk about? Because let’s face it, there’s only so much you can say about your dry cleaning service or your homemade pie.

However, your customers and you probably share many topics of interest. Every town, city or neighborhood has all sorts of local events, issues, problems or reasons to celebrate. Your neighbors and customers talk about them over the counter in your shop, in coffee shops, dog parks or over backyard fences.

These issues are what make your community special—they are the community passion points. A century ago, most communities created town commons, where people gathered to discuss, debate and occasionally brawl over local issues.

People like to do business with people who share their interests. They would rather have an easy conversation then get bombarded with marketing offers and a few very large companies have figured this all out.

Dell Computer, for example, has 8000 employees who use social media as part of their jobs. They are discouraged from using the conversational tools to be overly promotional, and instead are encouraged to mix in mentions of their hobbies and personal interests.

“We discourage shilling,” Richard Binhammer, a senior member to the Dell social media team, told me.

Binhammer’s approach make sense. A smart sales person almost never starts a customer conversation with, “Hey, are you going to buy something? They are more likely to discuss weather and ease in to any possible transactions.”

In social media, you will almost always do better by conversing than by aggressive selling, and you will probably sell more goods and services if your team talks with people about what interests them rather than what you want to sell.

Want to read more on community building? Check these out:

There are local passion spots wherever you do business. And the ability of your hometown to have a public, accessible venue for discussion has been in atrophy in recent years.

Local newspapers and broadcast stations have been on the wane. Those that have survived have very often cut staff and local coverage. The result has been that many communities suffer a local information void waiting to be filled.

Thanks to social media, local merchant or professional can fill this void in local community information and promotion at low cost and with a little investment of time. The result may have more lasting value to your business position than any e-coupon. The result may also increase the number of people who use e-coupons when you post them as well.

You have the opportunity to provide your community with an online commons—a venue where local news is shared and issues can be discussed or debated.

Here are four ways to do it:

  1. Be the local media company

Online journalist Tom Foremski has been talking a lot about every company becoming a media company. But his examples are usually about huge enterprises such as Dell Computer, Cisco, Ford Motors, etc.

Why can’t a small business do this for its hometown? Your customers are already telling you what they care about—why not report on what their local passion points are? Your loyalty to your community will spawn their loyalty to you.

  1. Use video and pictures

Your community is filled with wonderful and provocative visuals and sounds. Take pictures at local events. Post them (note: if kids are involved get permission).

  1.  Listen and report

Use basic tools such as Google Blog Alerts to monitor topics that interest your community. Use Twitter and Facebook to be the first to report on them. If it is a complex subject, blog on it—or ask someone in your community to do a guest blog on your site.

  1.  Be a polster

When issues arise in your community, poll your audience. Ask for a yes or no response, but also host a venue for people who want to leave longer comments. I constantly ask questions on Twitter and Facebook, but I also set up a space for blog comments, where people can post long comments and perhaps debate each other’s ideas.

By becoming a community booster, you build loyalty and establish thought leadership. This can be devastating to a competitor.

I call the strategy ‘Lethal Generosity.’ Here’s how it works:

Start a campaign for safe streets, sending the local team to a post-season tournament or whatever is a passion point you share with your neighbors.

Next, invite your competitors to join the campaign to match—or exceed—any financial contributions you make. Do it online or in public.

What can your competitor do? There’s only two options:

  • Ignore you. But then it appears they don’t care about safe streets or the local team.
  • Match or exceed your donation. In either case, they are following your lead. You will get some of the credit for your competitor’s generosity.

And, in either case, you win.

Try it. I bet it will increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself.

 

JoA: 5 Things Leaders Should Never Say

How’s is your communication with your directs? Are you pushing them away? Below is an article form Journal of Accountancy magazine By Jennifer Wilson.

5 Things Leaders Should Never Say

To avoid alienating your employees, especially your best young talent, try these alternative approaches for better communication.

Today’s –coming leaders have many career options, and their phones, email inboxes, and LinkedIn accounts are being “hit up” every day by recruiters and others interested in potentially employing them. That’s why established leaders committed to retaining their best and brightest need to pay more attention to the things they say that frustrate and disappoint future leaders.

This article explores five phrases established leaders should never say again and suggests an alternative approach that their young or new talent might better appreciate. And while the advice in this article is geared toward conversations with young CPAs, leaders would be -advised to apply it when communicating with all team members.

Never say this again Be patient …

Why? Because … Up-and-coming leaders have many options. When you tell them to be patient about something they want changed, they hear, “This isn’t going to happen for a long time (if ever),” and they don’t want to—or have to—wait.

Try this instead: When your people want something to change, ask them to develop a plan to make it happen. Then, help them refine their ideas and do your best to support them in implementing the change unless the change is a monumental deal breaker. Be willing to pilot new ideas, take small steps, and implement things imperfectly to ensure that your team feels perpetual forward progress.

Never say this again: You’re not ready …

Why? Because … Emerging leaders want experiences. Most have confidence in their abilities, and they want to progress faster than traditional timelines. Your best and brightest don’t want to be held to “old” timing standards of what a “- person” or a “new manager” does. Instead, they want to do what they believe they are ready and able to do. When you say they’re not ready, they hear you saying, “I don’t believe in you yet,” which contradicts their own beliefs. This leaves them thinking, “You don’t get it” or “You don’t get me.”

Try this instead: Figure out how to get them a portion of the experience they’re requesting or allow them to take on the whole effort. For instance, if they feel they are ready to meet with tax clients, allow them to do so. Ensure that a member of your team acts as a silent shadow for the first few meetings. In my experience, today’s emerging leaders are often more ready than we expect—which is great news! When they try and don’t succeed, most are quick to admit they need to step back and invest to round out their skills. While they’re regrouping, they’ll appreciate that you took the risk and believed in them.

Never say this again: When I was coming up … That’s not how it was when I came up …

Why? Because …They hear you saying, “Four score and seven years ago …” or “I am old.” I realize that’s harsh, but if you hark back to your days as an emerging leader, you rolled your eyes when your boss said this, too! Back in the day, people churned butter and used outhouses. But they don’t have to anymore. Today’s emerging leaders don’t want to talk about yesterday’s hardships—they want to talk about tomorrow’s possibilities!

Try this instead: Ask yourself what you’re trying to convey in a story about the past or your career progression. Instead of using the offending phrases, try something like, “What I have learned that works well is …” or “A best practice we employ is …”

Never say this again: He must not be working because he isn’t here … or She isn’t putting in the same effort as others because she leaves at 4:30 p.m. or isn’t here on Saturdays …

Why? Because … It is a fallacy that people are productive contributors just because they’re in the office. It is possible that your people are working from home, clients’ offices, or other locations at odd hours and producing a lot of great work when they are not in the office. In fact, according to Gallup’sState of the American Workplace report, remote workers logged more hours than their office counterparts and were slightly more engaged. Emerging leaders value flexibility in where and when they work. The offending phrases make them think, “You really don’t get it.”

Try this instead: Look for ways to further your workplace flex programs. Ask your emerging leaders to devise strategies to maximize both production and flexibility. Encourage all employees to stop equating presence at the office with productivity because the correlation is false. And, if you want to learn more about the argument emerging leaders have for virtual work, read my blog post at convergencecoaching.com.

Never say this again: You can change this when I’m gone (sometimes said jokingly, but not heard that way!)

Why? Because … This is similar to “be patient” but has the extra kick of reminding your emerging leaders that you are on your way out, biding your time, bailing, or any other number of “short timer” ideas. And this can cross their minds, “So, we won’t change this important thing because you don’t want to, and the firm will suffer until you leave. Then, we’ll have to scramble to be competitive.” This leads them to want you gone sooner—and you wonder why you feel pushed? When your resistance persists, it can lead to this thought you never want to enter your future leader’s mind, “Why don’t I leave before you and save us both the trouble?”

Try this instead: Our profession is facing immense change in almost every area. For firms, those changes include shifting work styles such as dress and flexibility, the fight for relevance in compliance services, changes in billing practices, the emergence of advisory services, and leaps in technology. Evolution isn’t optional. Your emerging leaders want to capitalize on these changes and position your business for success. Step outside of your discomfort, reignite your passion, and put your immense experience to work to support your team in making the big changes needed—now.

SPEAKING TO THE FUTURE

As a Baby Boomer, I understand the feelings that established leaders might have as they read this article. You want to enjoy the fruits of your labor as you appreciate the view from your career pinnacle. You want things to be familiar and perhaps the way they’ve always been. But that’s like wishing you could do business in a market that doesn’t exist instead of actually doing business in the market you’re in. If you’re committed to having succession in place to ensure that your business succeeds well into the future, give up the notions—and phrases—that send signals of resistance to your emerging leaders. Reignite your inner revolutionary. Embrace their ideas. Engage with them in change.

This article is adapted from “5 Phrases Established Leaders Should Never Say Again,” CPA Insider, Aug. 1, 2016.

About the author

Jennifer Wilson (jen@convergencecoaching.com) is a partner and co-founder of Convergence-Coaching LLC in Bellevue, Neb.

 

HBR: Everyone Says They Listen to Their Customers—Here’s How to Really Do It

Are you measuring your customers’ experience? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ana Brant.

Everyone Says They Listen to Their Customers—Here’s How to Really Do It

Almost everyone in the luxury service industry talks about “listening to the voice of the customer.” But listening is not the same as understanding. How you listen, and to whom you listen, is critical. Even a smart, high-end business can be led astray by misunderstanding the strengths and weaknesses of different customer feedback channels.

In this piece, I’ll lay out a few of the strengths and shortcomings of a few of the more common channels, based on my experience as global director of guest experience and innovation at the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels.

Mystery shopper ratings

One ubiquitous tool for evaluating the quality of the customer experience in service industries is the mystery shopper. The mystery shopper plays the role of a customer, evaluating service on a checklist of criteria. With these checklists, mystery shoppers measure compliance to a set of standards related to physical attributes and service delivery. Your own company or an external evaluator (such as AAA or Forbes Five Star) may set these standards. Mystery shoppers are best for measuring efficiency — but not experience.

One checklist measure in the hospitality industry, for instance, is how promptly a guest is greeted upon arrival in the lobby, and whether she is greeted by name. But in this era of heightened sensitivity to privacy, does that always make sense? Suppose we’re talking about a luxury hotel guest who is a paparazzi-shy celebrity? A mystery shopper report would never alert me to the receptionist who had the good sense not to speak that guest’s name out loud.

A mystery shopper’s report is an important tool to help us deliver efficient service. But it’s equally important for my team to remember that a checklist, which tends to reward repetitive behaviors, cannot encompass everything we hope to be.

Opinion surveys

This is the easiest feedback channel to misinterpret, for luxury businesses and others. Results are best when it’s a scientific survey built on a proven customer-engagement methodology. One survey we recently did helped us distinguish between what business and leisure travelers look for in a hotel. It told us that we needed to work on winning back a greater proportion of business travelers as leisure guests, and positioned us to increase that by 6% over the following six months.

However, beware the opposite. A quick online survey (à la Survey Monkey) can set a luxury organization into fire-fighting mode about a one-off problem that’s not a true trend. Also, this data can be interpreted — and manipulated easily – by managers, to fit any agenda.

Social media feedback

Many businesses track Twitter and Facebook as measures of how well they are doing on customer service. For luxury brands, social media posts serve one main purpose — as online postcards.

When we looked closely, we found our guests most often use these channels to brag that they have stayed with us. What can we do with that sort of feedback? A lot. These insights don’t tell us about our customer service performance, but they can inform our marketing and customer experience strategies. For example, we see meal pictures showing up frequently on Instagram. So a question we can ask about a luxury room service meal is, is the presentation Instagram-worthy?

Looking at a series of posts from customers can also remind us of what differentiates us from our competitors: afternoon tea at The Dorchester and the soufflés at The Beverly Hills. At Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris, for instance, guests find a high-end fluffy robe and slippers – with a twist. The slippers have red soles, like Christian Louboutin shoes. We learned via social posts that guests love this touch (especially those who remember Carrie Bradshaw’s fashionable stay there during the last two episodes of Sex and the City).

Social and review posts can also deliver “aha” moments about competitors’ offerings. For example, are luxury hotels delivering the same items – say cake and champagne – to special occasion guests? If so, you can strive for something more distinctive.

Social media is best for discovering what customers really value about their luxury experience with you. This information shapes customer experience strategy. Of course, they can also provide early warning signals that service has slipped. If your social media posts read like comment cards, that’s an alarm bell.

Review sites

In our industry, it is a common misperception that the review sites are used only to find deals. That has led some luxury service providers to discount them. True, not everyone on a review site will be your target customer. However, we’ve learned that many luxury shoppers use sites such as TripAdvisor to validate their choices prior to making a final decision, and browse our reviews and those of our direct competitors. That’s a customer we certainly want to win, so our managers respond to TripAdvisor reviews. Sometimes, this also presents a bonus opportunity to turn a one-time guest into a repeat customer.

Sites such as TripAdvisor can also help identify gaps in what you think is important to customers vs. what customers say is important. While surveys only tell us what we think we want to know and social posts often showcase the best highlights of a guest experience, review sites highlight our blind spots. And when customer reviews include images, they show our products and services through our customers’ eyes, not how professional photographers pose and light them for our website. This can be a reality check for us.

They can also help you look into your competition’s customer experience. Ask this key question: What do you have that customers love — and your competitors lack?

First-hand observations

It’s also valuable to learn when your own eyes trump all. One of the most powerful and often underappreciated tools for improving service and performance is direct observation. Sit in the lobby and see how staff members greet guests, how traffic flows through registration, and how well people work together. Someone in the luxury car business could apply the same principle to seeing what really goes on in the showroom, or in the sales manager’s office.

Luxury innovations usually come from understanding and addressing new needs. For instance, while sitting in the lobby of The Dorchester, members of my innovation team observed guests walk to the theater desk to book tickets for a West End show, and then go to the Concierge Desk to arrange for dinner reservations and transportation. Why, they asked, should guests have to go to two desks to arrange one evening? Now the theater desk staff make all the arrangements a guest might need. I am not sure we would have discovered that less-than-seamless service issue any other way than by sitting in the lobby and watching.

While auditing and measuring the customer experience, remember the ultimate goal is to gather information that helps deliver a level of customer service that differentiates your business. Do not expect technology-driven and repetitive checklist-style evaluations to find it for you.

HHSB: The Physiology of Sales Calls

Do you have the pressure to perform on every sales call? Below is a post from Heavy Hitter Sales Blog.

The Physiology of Sales Calls

Sales is a profession based upon pressure: pressure from sales management to make the numbers, pressure from competitors who are trying to defeat you, the pressure you place yourself to be number one, and the pressure to perform on every sales call.

Pressure upon the salesperson during sales calls has a profound impact. It creates an emergency situation that triggers our body’s “fight or flight” system. Here are a few of the physiological changes that happen to a salesperson who is making a stressful customer sales call or conducting a critical presentation he hopes will land him or her the big deal.

  • The eyebrows instinctively rise and the eyes widen. The iris eye muscle contracts, causing the pupils to dilate. These actions enhance vision so that maximum visual information about the perceived threats can be sent to the brain.
  • The brain’s cortex interprets the visual information it is receiving and transmits messages to the brain’s hypothalamus. The hypothalamus activates the adrenal gland, which instantaneously releases adrenaline into the blood stream. The hormone adrenaline activates the body’s emergency response systems.
  • The heart pumps at up to twice its normal rate. Breathing increases so that the lungs can supply more oxygen to the blood. Oxygen-rich blood is sent to the brain for clearer thinking and to muscles for quick reactions. The stomach stops digestion so that blood can be diverted elsewhere in the body. The liver releases sugar reserves for a quick boost of energy, and the bladder sends a message that it wants to be emptied so the body can flee faster.
  • On the outside of the body, perspiration gathers as sweat glands are activated to reduce the body heat caused by the increased flow of blood. The mouth widens so that air can be taken in faster than through the nose. The face loses color and appears ashen as blood is diverted for more important uses.

The increase in bodily activity corresponds to the escalation of mental activity as well. The salesperson’s internal dialogue speeds up, jumps from subject to subject, and second-guesses itself. “Are they with me?” “What should I say next?” This tension and fear are exposed in the salespeople’s speech. They talk too fast, repeat themselves, stutter, or under extreme stress completely forget what they were going to say.

The reality of this situation is that the salesperson must project a calm, cool, collected presence to the customer at all times. To do otherwise would increase the customer’s stress level. Nervousness and agitation may be misinterpreted and convince customers that the salesperson has something to hide. Verbal faux pas may be thought of as incompetence. Think about your last visit to your dentist. What would your reaction have been if before he started to work on your mouth he seemed nervous, agitated, or flustered? You would be scared and have a very stressful appointment.

HBR: What Makes Great Salespeople

Below is a blog post from Harvard Business Review. Do you have the right customer engagement?

What Makes Great Salespeople

What behaviors drive successful salespeople? Last year, research by my people analytics company VoloMetrix identified three things that were highly correlated with top performing reps: More time spent with customers; larger internal networks; and more time spent with managers and senior leadership. These three behaviors persisted regardless of region, territory, or sales role, suggesting that they are foundational ingredients for success.

We came to these conclusions after studying the sales force of a large B2B software company using six quarters of quota attainment data for several thousand employees. We then correlated it against 18 months of VoloMetrix-created people analytics KPIs. Since then, we have had the opportunity to work with several more companies to perform similar and much deeper analyses.

Building off of the earlier findings, we have developed a broader framework for each of the behaviors we idenftified (two of which we combined), plus an additional one:

  1. Customer engagement.This not not only includes overall time spent with customers, but also factors in the number of accounts touched; time spent with each; frequency of interactions; and breadth and depth of relationships built within them.
  2. Internal networks.We’ve found that it’s useful to break internal network characteristics into three sub-categories:
    • General: This includes overall number of relationships within the company; time spent interacting with other colleagues; and influence within the network.
    • Support resources: A set of metrics focused on the relationships reps built with sales support staff, including pre-sales specialists, inside sales reps, and others.
    • Management: A set of metrics concentrated on relationships between reps and their direct managers, as well as broader rep engagement with company leadership.
  3. Energy:This new angle, which is very much related to the previous two, includes a collection of metrics that measure overall time and effort exerted by salespeople.

In total, our new analysis suggests that sales success requires the right engagement model with customers, the right relationships within your own company, and putting in the needed time and energy. These insights may seem intuitive — and in many ways they are — but, according to the data, the details matter. Here’s how our findings play out:

Customer engagement doesn’t just mean spending time with more customers. We’ve stated before that top performers spend up to 33% more time with customers per week which, depending on the company, is typically 2-4 additional hours of time.  It’s clear that time with customers matters. However, through further analysis we’ve found that degree of focus can matter as much or more than total time. For example, in one large B2B technology company, top performers spent 18% more time with customers per week. Yet they interacted with 40% fewer accounts over the course of a quarter allowing them to spend more time with each of those accounts relative to lower performers.

In other words, depth trumps breadth when it comes to accounts — top sellers focused on building deeper relationships with fewer customers rather than casting a wider net of shallower engagement.

Of course, these metrics are not one size-fits-all and the right balance varies by company based on what they are selling (e.g., highly consultative sales processes benefit most from depth whereas more transactional models can benefit from breadth). Regardless, these key metrics relating to time spent with customers and account relationships have emerged both as strong predictors of sales outcomes as well as highly actionable metrics for sales leaders to track, incorporate into territory design and use to help their teams improve performance.

A bigger internal network is generally better, with some nuances in sales support. No matter how we cut the data, top performers have significantly larger networks within their company (30-40% larger, which typically equates to 10-20 more people they interact with regularly), higher centrality (a measure of influence within the network), and spend more time with leadership. When you think about the level of complexity in a large organization, it makes sense that people who find ways to build more relationships get exposed to more ideas from across the business, are able to access expertise quickly when needed, and have more context about what’s happening. All of these things help them to be successful.

But building relationships doesn’t mean attending lots of meetings, especially those with 20 or so attendees. When we measure relationships, it involves both a frequency and an intimacy component. To qualify as a “relationship,” you have to not only interact with someone frequently (at least 2x per month), but that it also has to be in a relatively intimate group (five or fewer people involved in the meeting or email). So to establish a large network, you have to interact with many people, on separate threads, frequently.

This takes a lot of time. The top performers we study typically spend anywhere from 10-15 hours per week interacting with small groups inside their companies. Often sales executives balk at the idea of their reps spending so much time internally instead of out selling, but the data suggests that it is time well spent.

When we work with companies, we help them find ways to minimize large standing meetings and instead create ways to enable broader networks consisting of smaller groups of people. The unfortunate truth is that top performers in most companies are finding ways to build these bigger networks in spite of the processes they work within rather than because of them.

Management relationships are another important aspect of internal networking. Generally speaking, more exposure to senior leadership correlates with successful sales outcomes. That said, we have found a lot of variation in the specific interaction patterns between sellers and front-line managers across regions, product lines, and companies. For example, in some companies we have seen an inverse correlation between front-line manager involvement and seller success, meaning that top sellers spend less time with their direct manager than lower performers do. However, even in these situations, the top sellers spend relatively more time with other members of senior leadership.

Lastly, in complex sales organizations, the relationships between sellers and sales support staff is an area where more relationships is not necessarily better. In fact, in some cases sellers who have more relationships with sales support workers perform worse. This is sometimes the result of inconsistent pairings in which, for example, sellers aren’t able to work with the same pre-sales specialist consistently and instead have to work with a different one each time. This can lead to more relationships, but a weaker team. We’ve also seen that there is a stronger relationship between the time spent with support relationships and the complexity and number of products being sold than there is to actual outcomes. In other words, sellers who are trying to sell a broader portfolio or simply have more complex offerings are more heavily dependent on support resources, regardless of their effectiveness.

Sales is hard work (but you probably knew that already). Consistently, we’ve found that top performers simply put in more time. Their weeks are approximately four hours longer, with up to 40% more time spent outside of normal working hours compared to their lower-performing counterparts. But the answer isn’t saying that everyone should just work harder; even low performers work an average of 50 hours per week.

The implication, instead, is that every hour is precious. So echoing some of the findings above, here are some changes that could be made at the company level:

  • If salespeople have 15 hours available to spend with customers in a week, focusing that time on five accounts at three hours each rather than 15 accounts at one hour each is likely to lead to better outcomes
  • To facilitate the growth of internal networks, start with onboarding programs. New hires should meet and interact with a large and diverse set of colleagues, and can be supported through collaboration tools, trainings, coaching, and other mechanisms.
  • Create a model where sellers have access to consistent support resources and staff. Having to start over with a different specialist in each account adds lots of overhead and reduces outcomes.
  • Know that every additional product line in a seller’s bag comes at the cost of requiring them to build more expertise and more internal relationships to have a shot at being successful. While offering a broad portfolio can provide a powerful value prop to customers in some situations, the implication on sellers needs to be carefully thought through.
  • The right approach varies by company, and these things can and do change over time; companies that gather objective data on a regular basis to inform decision making have a massive competitive advantage over those that rely only on anecdotes and gut feel. Organizations we work with, for example, receive automated weekly updates on all of these metrics aggregated by team without any manual data gathering.

Lastly, a note on causality. All of the above metrics are highly correlated with sales success, but we haven’t yet accumulated enough data to have confidence on which of these metrics are truly causal. So while it is true that top sellers spend more time with customers, it is not necessarily true that an underperformer would suddenly become more successful simply by spending more time with customers.

That said, rigorously proven causality is not a prerequisite for learning from these insights. Quite a few companies are enjoying immense value in the predictive power of these metrics, which typically account for up to 70% of the variance in sales outcomes quarter by quarter And having access to objective, up-to-date data on what behaviors works and don’t work within a specific sales organization is a powerful compliment to existing management tools and allows leaders to set their teams up for success.

HBR – What Makes Great Salespeople

Below is a blog post from Harvard Business Review. Are you focusing on building deeper relationships with fewer customers or casting a wider net of shallower engagements?

What Makes Great Salespeople

What behaviors drive successful salespeople? Last year, research by my people analytics company VoloMetrix identified three things that were highly correlated with top performing reps: More time spent with customers; larger internal networks; and more time spent with managers and senior leadership. These three behaviors persisted regardless of region, territory, or sales role, suggesting that they are foundational ingredients for success.

We came to these conclusions after studying the sales force of a large B2B software company using six quarters of quota attainment data for several thousand employees. We then correlated it against 18 months of VoloMetrix-created people analytics KPIs. Since then, we have had the opportunity to work with several more companies to perform similar and much deeper analyses.

Building off of the earlier findings, we have developed a broader framework for each of the behaviors we idenftified (two of which we combined), plus an additional one:

  1. Customer engagement.This not not only includes overall time spent with customers, but also factors in the number of accounts touched; time spent with each; frequency of interactions; and breadth and depth of relationships built within them.
  2. Internal networks.We’ve found that it’s useful to break internal network characteristics into three sub-categories:
    • General: This includes overall number of relationships within the company; time spent interacting with other colleagues; and influence within the network.
    • Support resources: A set of metrics focused on the relationships reps built with sales support staff, including pre-sales specialists, inside sales reps, and others.
    • Management: A set of metrics concentrated on relationships between reps and their direct managers, as well as broader rep engagement with company leadership.
  3. Energy:This new angle, which is very much related to the previous two, includes a collection of metrics that measure overall time and effort exerted by salespeople.

In total, our new analysis suggests that sales success requires the right engagement model with customers, the right relationships within your own company, and putting in the needed time and energy. These insights may seem intuitive — and in many ways they are — but, according to the data, the details matter. Here’s how our findings play out:

Customer engagement doesn’t just mean spending time with more customers. We’ve stated before that top performers spend up to 33% more time with customers per week which, depending on the company, is typically 2-4 additional hours of time.  It’s clear that time with customers matters. However, through further analysis we’ve found that degree of focus can matter as much or more than total time. For example, in one large B2B technology company, top performers spent 18% more time with customers per week. Yet they interacted with 40% fewer accounts over the course of a quarter allowing them to spend more time with each of those accounts relative to lower performers.

In other words, depth trumps breadth when it comes to accounts — top sellers focused on building deeper relationships with fewer customers rather than casting a wider net of shallower engagement.

Of course, these metrics are not one size-fits-all and the right balance varies by company based on what they are selling (e.g., highly consultative sales processes benefit most from depth whereas more transactional models can benefit from breadth). Regardless, these key metrics relating to time spent with customers and account relationships have emerged both as strong predictors of sales outcomes as well as highly actionable metrics for sales leaders to track, incorporate into territory design and use to help their teams improve performance.

A bigger internal network is generally better, with some nuances in sales support. No matter how we cut the data, top performers have significantly larger networks within their company (30-40% larger, which typically equates to 10-20 more people they interact with regularly), higher centrality (a measure of influence within the network), and spend more time with leadership. When you think about the level of complexity in a large organization, it makes sense that people who find ways to build more relationships get exposed to more ideas from across the business, are able to access expertise quickly when needed, and have more context about what’s happening. All of these things help them to be successful.

But building relationships doesn’t mean attending lots of meetings, especially those with 20 or so attendees. When we measure relationships, it involves both a frequency and an intimacy component. To qualify as a “relationship,” you have to not only interact with someone frequently (at least 2x per month), but that it also has to be in a relatively intimate group (five or fewer people involved in the meeting or email). So to establish a large network, you have to interact with many people, on separate threads, frequently.

This takes a lot of time. The top performers we study typically spend anywhere from 10-15 hours per week interacting with small groups inside their companies. Often sales executives balk at the idea of their reps spending so much time internally instead of out selling, but the data suggests that it is time well spent.

When we work with companies, we help them find ways to minimize large standing meetings and instead create ways to enable broader networks consisting of smaller groups of people. The unfortunate truth is that top performers in most companies are finding ways to build these bigger networks in spite of the processes they work within rather than because of them.

Management relationships are another important aspect of internal networking. Generally speaking, more exposure to senior leadership correlates with successful sales outcomes. That said, we have found a lot of variation in the specific interaction patterns between sellers and front-line managers across regions, product lines, and companies. For example, in some companies we have seen an inverse correlation between front-line manager involvement and seller success, meaning that top sellers spend less time with their direct manager than lower performers do. However, even in these situations, the top sellers spend relatively more time with other members of senior leadership.

Lastly, in complex sales organizations, the relationships between sellers and sales support staff is an area where more relationships is not necessarily better. In fact, in some cases sellers who have more relationships with sales support workers perform worse. This is sometimes the result of inconsistent pairings in which, for example, sellers aren’t able to work with the same pre-sales specialist consistently and instead have to work with a different one each time. This can lead to more relationships, but a weaker team. We’ve also seen that there is a stronger relationship between the time spent with support relationships and the complexity and number of products being sold than there is to actual outcomes. In other words, sellers who are trying to sell a broader portfolio or simply have more complex offerings are more heavily dependent on support resources, regardless of their effectiveness.

Sales is hard work (but you probably knew that already). Consistently, we’ve found that top performers simply put in more time. Their weeks are approximately four hours longer, with up to 40% more time spent outside of normal working hours compared to their lower-performing counterparts. But the answer isn’t saying that everyone should just work harder; even low performers work an average of 50 hours per week.

The implication, instead, is that every hour is precious. So echoing some of the findings above, here are some changes that could be made at the company level:

  • If salespeople have 15 hours available to spend with customers in a week, focusing that time on five accounts at three hours each rather than 15 accounts at one hour each is likely to lead to better outcomes
  • To facilitate the growth of internal networks, start with onboarding programs. New hires should meet and interact with a large and diverse set of colleagues, and can be supported through collaboration tools, trainings, coaching, and other mechanisms.
  • Create a model where sellers have access to consistent support resources and staff. Having to start over with a different specialist in each account adds lots of overhead and reduces outcomes.
  • Know that every additional product line in a seller’s bag comes at the cost of requiring them to build more expertise and more internal relationships to have a shot at being successful. While offering a broad portfolio can provide a powerful value prop to customers in some situations, the implication on sellers needs to be carefully thought through.
  • The right approach varies by company, and these things can and do change over time; companies that gather objective data on a regular basis to inform decision making have a massive competitive advantage over those that rely only on anecdotes and gut feel. Organizations we work with, for example, receive automated weekly updates on all of these metrics aggregated by team without any manual data gathering.

Lastly, a note on causality. All of the above metrics are highly correlated with sales success, but we haven’t yet accumulated enough data to have confidence on which of these metrics are truly causal. So while it is true that top sellers spend more time with customers, it is not necessarily true that an underperformer would suddenly become more successful simply by spending more time with customers.

That said, rigorously proven causality is not a prerequisite for learning from these insights. Quite a few companies are enjoying immense value in the predictive power of these metrics, which typically account for up to 70% of the variance in sales outcomes quarter by quarter And having access to objective, up-to-date data on what behaviors works and don’t work within a specific sales organization is a powerful compliment to existing management tools and allows leaders to set their teams up for success.