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Is Your Sales System Clogged with Accumulated Gunk?

Copyright 2000, by Dave Kahle.

Recently, one of the salespeople with whom I was working volunteered that he often obtained demonstration samples by coming into the office, visiting the warehouse, opening a box of the product he wanted to sell, taking one out, and re-closing the box.

As you can imagine, this gave the warehouse manager fits. However, there were more consequences to this practice than a furious warehouse manager. This is an example of sales system GUNK!

What's gunk? Any practice that detracts from the salesperson spending time with customers. In other words, other things the outside salespeople do instead of meeting with customers.

When we boil down the job of the typical outside salesperson to its essence, it is clear that the one thing we want of them, the one place that they bring value to the organization, the one thing they do that is the essential reason we have them, is interact with the customers. Everything else is a means to that end.

Most drainage pipes, over time, accumulate layers of gunk that clog up the system. So, too, most sales systems, over time, accumulate layers of habit and practice that erode the time the salesperson spends in front of the customer.

Here are some examples of sales system gunk.

  1. Samples. In the example above, not only did the salesperson detract from the purity of the inventory, cause needless stress for the warehouse manager, and potentially short ship a customer, he also spent time doing something that took him out of his territory.

    In a gunk-less sales system, the salesperson would call or e-mail the person who was responsible for maintaining samples, and ask for the appropriate sample to be sent. It should have taken two minutes to send an e-mail instead of an hour driving back and forth to the office.

  2. Sales literature. In a gunked-up system, the salespeople drive into the office regularly and collect the literature they need from a variety of sources. In a gunkless system, they maintain literature inventories in their cars or home offices, and regularly replace their inventory by e-mailed or faxed requests.

  3. Emergency shipments. I was recently scheduled to interview a number of salespeople for one of my clients. We had sessions scheduled every hour. One of the salespeople didn't make the appointment. The reason? He had to drive home, change cars with his wife, use the larger car to drive to the warehouse, pick up an emergency shipment, and deliver it to a customer. While on one hand we can applaud the salesperson for taking care of the customer, on the other we need to recognize that this practice is extremely costly gunk.

    This whole episode probably took the better part of a half-day of the salesman's time. Not only was that an extremely expensive delivery, but the episode detracted from the salesperson's time and focus. That's several sales calls that were not made because the salesperson was acting as the company's highest paid delivery driver. The company could have hired a limousine service to deliver the product in a stretched Lincoln for less.

    In a gunkless sales system, an inside person expedites backorders and arranges for emergency shipments so that the sales people are free to concentrate on interacting with the customer.

  4. Office time. This is one of the largest contributors of sales system gunk, depositing large clumps of smelly sticky stuff whenever it occurs.

    In a gunked-up system, salespeople come into the office regularly. Maybe they start every day there. That time in the office is generally their least productive time. There is coffee to be drunk, phone calls to take, mail boxes to empty, colleagues to talk with - all gunky practices that take up expensive selling time.

    This is such a large issue, that I have even developed a law, similar in scope and dependability to Einstein's law of relativity. I call it Kahle's Law of Office Time. It states that, "Whenever a sales person has 30 minutes of work to do at the office, it will always take two hours to do it." In a gunk-free system, salespeople are not allowed in the office before 4:30 PM on Fridays.
The list of examples of gunk can go on and on. But you have the idea. Gunk is any habit or practice within your sales organization that detracts from the salesperson spending time in front of the customers.

From my experience, gunk is inevitable, and often hardly visible. Gunk habits develop with time and become part of the unwritten rules about how things are done in your organization. Yet, they suck valuable time and energy out of your sales system.

One sure way to improve the productivity of your sales system is to clean out the gunk, freeing the salespeople to spend their time and energy on the essence of their job and the activity that will bring you revenue - being in front of the customers.

Here are five steps to de-gunk your system.

  1. Identify the gunk. Have someone interview the salespeople, asking them to recall a blow-by-blow description of how they spent their day or week. Look for gunk.

    Sometimes, gunk is so deeply ingrained in the sales force's habits and routines that they don't even recognize it. So, it may work better to have someone spend a day with each salesperson, making notes about all the gunk. Make a list of all of the things that the salespeople do that could be done better or cheaper by someone else.

  2. Work with a team of inside people and salespeople to develop alternate ways of handling each of those activities.

  3. Create policies and written procedures. Job descriptions may have to change.

  4. Roll out the new procedures in a sales meeting. Start with the big picture. Explain why you're making these changes, and how it will help them and the company to be more productive. Talk through some scenarios, answer their questions, and then chisel the new program in granite.

  5. Appoint someone to watch over the implementation of the changes. Remember, we're talking about habits here, and habits are hard to change. Someone needs to monitor the new program, reminding everyone involved of the new way to do things.
Once you've augured out the drainage pipes in your home, you can probably rest easy for a year or so. So too with sales system gunk. Once you've gone through this process and cleaned it up, you won't need to revisit the issue for a while.

Rest easy, you've just made your sales system more productive.


Is There Gunk in Your System?

Take this simple self-assessment in order to obtain a quick glimpse of how clogged your sales system may be.

  1. How often do you see your salespeople at the office?
    1. Never
    2. Every day
    3. Occasionally
    4. I wouldn't recognize one if I saw one

  2. How do you handle samples?
    1. The salespeople handle them
    2. Beats me
    3. I'm sure somebody takes care of them
    4. We have an inside person responsible for that

  3. Who writes quotes?
    1. The salespeople
    2. I don't know
    3. A sales assistant

  4. Who maintains the sales literature?
    1. The salespeople
    2. A sales assistant
    3. No one

  5. Who is responsible for expediting backorders?
    1. The salespeople
    2. An inside person
    3. We don't have backorders

  6. Who sources new products or product variations?
    1. The salespeople
    2. Purchasing
    3. We don't look for new products
    4. Someone else
Scoring: If you answered "b." to question 1, your system is clogged and needs immediate attention. Your salespeople can be far more productive.

If you answered "a" to two or more of the remaining items, chances are your system is gunky and needs your attention. If you answered "a" to only one item, you probably don't need to worry right now.

Transforming Your Sales Force for the 21st Century
Transforming Your Sales Force for the 21st Century
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Only $69

Distribution companies, by their nature, should be sales-oriented companies. But, most distributors don't do sales very well. That's the premise behind this new book.

The book, written for sales managers and executives in the distribution industry, provides a blue print for executives to transform their sales forces into highly directable, effective, focused performers.

The book begins with an analysis of current conditions that pressure the distributor to revise the way he/she thinks about his sales force. Kahle then paints a picture of the distributor sales force of the future. The sales force will be:
  1. more specialized
  2. more directable
  3. more flexible
  4. more professional
  5. more productive.
His advice begins with "See it as a system," a concept that is based on one of the key principles for the book, "When you change the structure, you change the behavior of the people who work within that structure."

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