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2019: The year to solve the sales productivity problem


Poor sales productivity and performance were the biggest challenge business leaders faced in 2018. The Bridge Group reported that 41 percent of companies said this was either their first or second largest business problem.

This year, the Bridge Group also found that the top-fifth of performing sales reps more than double the production output of the bottom fifth. This means that the all-star sales reps are carrying the entire organization on their back. Another study found that 67% of sales reps miss their annual quota.

What’s hindering these sales reps from performing? Their work processes prevent them from getting their selling duties done.

Reviewing the sales productivity problem

Sales reps spend most of their time on non-selling tasks, 64 percent to be exact, according to Salesforce. In fact, administrative tasks took up the biggest portion of their week at 25 percent, while connecting with their clients in person took up only 24 percent.

On average these sales reps are performing 94.4 tasks each day, which prevent them from connecting with their customers and from acquiring new ones.

Other research by Hubspot broke down these tasks and estimated the percent of a sales rep’s day these activities took up:

  • 21% is spent writing emails
  • 17% entering data
  • 17% prospecting and researching leads
  • 12% going to internal meetings
  • 12% scheduling calls

While the sales team’s purpose is to sell, each rep spends the equivalent of at least 50 full days away from core selling activities each year, which make these repetitive, administrative tasks directly interfere with a company’s revenue goals and sales productivity.

CRM tasks serve as an example of what can cost a company thousands of dollars. CRM users spend 5.5 hours each week on activities and contacts that cost companies $13,200 every year per user. Processes like these that are repetitive and inefficient (what’s called “organizational drag” in the academic world) cost the U.S. economy $3 trillion each year.

What we’ve learned

Companies became aware that this is a major business problem, and many are working on or already have implemented artificial intelligence (AI) as a solution.

Over the course of this year, we saw businesses learn about AI’s potential and thus, interest in implementing this technology grew. One survey done at the beginning of the year showed that 88 percent of companies have plans to implement AI. And Forrester reported that 46 percent of companies were first looking at marketing and sales when it comes to adopting AI systems.

In 2018, we saw much more education around AI and its potential for the workforce. Business leaders had a better understanding of their business efficiency problems and are now seeing AI as a solution.

But while excitement is building around AI, only about 20 percent of businesses have incorporated it in some way. Those eager companies that hit the pavement and implemented AI right away ran into some roadblocks.

The downside was that more than half of these early digital transformation efforts were stalled. Forrester attributes much of this to a lack of organizational readiness. Lots of the issues these early adopters faced were challenges like technical debt, data governance and fears that new technology would interrupt quarterly sales performance.

Now companies have a better understanding of both AI and the challenges they must overcome to implement it successfully. Because of this, Forrester predicts that companies will be much more pragmatic in addressing these barriers and sales efficiency problems within their organization.

Setting the stage for 2019

One of the biggest problems artificial intelligence faces is skepticism, in many forms. Some business leaders said that AI would be the end of the sales rep, fearing that it would wipe out the human salesforce altogether. Others were skeptical about its capabilities, saying that there was no way a machine can accomplish the same tasks that human workers can do.

With more education over the course of 2018, both about sales inefficiency and the potential for AI in the sales process, skepticism has waned. Businesses now have a better idea of what AI is and just how powerful it can be to increase sales productivity and efficiency.

More and more practical use cases for sales AI have made their way into media headlines and early adopters are paving the way for others to follow, showing that this technology will bring high ROI and revenue.

As skepticism disappears and businesses focus on pragmatic approaches to implementing AI, we will see more sales AI success stories coming out in 2019. The results for those who jump aboard the AI train will see increases to sales team productivity, boosts in revenue, cleaner sales data and happier customers.

There is one downside to the sales AI success that’s expected in 2019. It will be the year that sets the market standard for years to come. Those who implement AI now are going to be ahead of the innovative curve and therefore outcompete in their market.

Those who lack the resources, education and organizational readiness to implement AI in 2019 will struggle to catch up down the road or become obsolete altogether.

By Jessica Munday


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