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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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
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
Here are five steps to de-gunk your system.
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.
- 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.
- Work with a team of inside
people and salespeople to develop alternate ways of handling each of those
- Create policies and written
procedures. Job descriptions may have to change.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Scoring: If you answered
"b." to question 1, your system is clogged and needs immediate attention. Your
salespeople can be far more productive.
- How often do you see
your salespeople at the office?
- Every day
- I wouldn't recognize
one if I saw one
- How do you handle samples?
- The salespeople handle
- Beats me
- I'm sure somebody
takes care of them
- We have an inside
person responsible for that
- Who writes quotes?
- The salespeople
- I don't know
- A sales assistant
- Who maintains the sales
- The salespeople
- A sales assistant
- No one
- Who is responsible for
- The salespeople
- An inside person
- We don't have backorders
- Who sources new products
or product variations?
- The salespeople
- We don't look for
- Someone else
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.