Saad Khan made his colleagues a lot of money early in his career.
Working as a sales rep for a legal software company, Khan focused all his energy on meeting his assigned target of 80 cold calls a day. Dial after dial, he’d burn through hundreds of contacts over the course of the month, assuming it’d put him on the path to meeting quota.
There was just one problem — he wasn’t following the company’s sales process. He didn’t take the time to follow-up with his prospects, and as a result, he’d miss opportunities. The buyers would go through the company’s inbound sales channel and make other reps money instead of through him.
“I was just doing activity for activity’s sake,” Khan said. “I was just crunching away numbers, not doing my due checks, not seeing if people are already talking to these companies or if it’s valid for me to have a conversation with them. It was just about activity and numbers.”
6 Activities Sales Reps Waste Their Time On
- Sending empty follow-up emails.
- Avoiding objections.
- Skipping customer research.
- Trying to find the perfect cold calling time.
- Relying on LinkedIn to prospect.
- Over-personalizing outreach.
After a few months, Khan learned what all reps eventually learn: The numbers game only gets you so far in sales. Not every phone call, email or LinkedIn activity is valuable. The best reps know where they can trim the fat to be more effective.
So here are six activities to stop wasting your time on.
1. Sending Empty Follow-Up Emails
One of the biggest mistakes an early career sales rep can make with a customer is sending them an email that amounts to, “Hey, just checking in.”
Khan gets it. The longer the gap between interactions, the less likely a deal is to move forward. After all, even the most enthusiastic customers can end up ghosting the sales rep. So the impulse is to keep checking in, hoping there aren’t any new objections.
But the reality is, those messages come at a cost.
While they may give you a sense of security, it often ends up damaging your credibility with the buyer, Khan said. Instead of being a proactive partner in their buying process and providing them with value, you become another task they have to address on top of their work.
“You sometimes come across as needy; your commission breath starts to show.”
“You sometimes come across as needy; your commission breath starts to show,” Khan said. “[The customer] doesn’t know what you want. Your ask is not valid and stringent enough.”
This doesn’t mean you should finish a call with the buyer and wait for them to come to you. Follow-up emails are still an important strategy for building momentum in a deal. The key is to make them worth the buyer’s time.
Do This Instead: Agree on Next Steps at the End of Every Call
The easiest way to turn your follow-up emails from empty calories into a valuable part of your sales process is to establish next steps before you end each call with a buyer.
It doesn’t have to immediately move a deal along your pipeline, either. The buyer might not be ready for that. It might just be an agreement for you to circle back with them in a week, or a plan to send an agenda for your follow-up appointment. The key is to come to a shared understanding with the buyer about what comes next.
Once you set those next steps, your follow-up email isn’t a waste of buyer time, it’s delivering on what you promised.
Your check-ins should also focus on telling the buyer something new that helps them do their job better or clarifies a challenge they’re experiencing, Khan said. Doing so helps you strengthen your authority with the buyer and build momentum toward a deal.
For example, if you provide a sales training software and they’re scaling their account executive team, send them an article that will help them address their onboarding challenges.
When you can send a check-in email that delivers on what you promised and adds value, you strengthen your relationship with the buyer and create reasons for them to look forward to your messages.
2. Avoiding Objections
If a customer doesn’t voice an objection, does it exist?
Unlike this question’s more philosophical, forest-related counterpart, the answer is easy. Yes, of course the objection exists, said Nick Cegelski, senior account executive for time-keeping platform Time By Ping. But it’s a lesson that can take salespeople years to learn, and it often comes at the expense of bloated pipelines and wasted time.
“Where a lot of salespeople screw things up is they’re afraid to get to the truth and get to the truth quickly with their customer,” Cegelski said. “The reason for that is the truth can sometimes be painful — it might turn out that they’re not a good fit for you or you’re not a good fit for them.”
While sales reps are trained to handle objections when they come up, the natural instinct is to wait for the buyer to voice them. After all, why make your job harder by coming up with reasons they shouldn’t buy from you?
As a result, it’s easy to develop what’s known in official sales parlance as “happy ears.” This is a common affliction in which the rep gets so excited that a buyer checks all their boxes that they fail to notice the signs of concern.
Perhaps the customer hemmed over price or hawed when security concerns came up. The sales rep, with their happy ears, bulldozes their hesitancy with more emails, more demos and more meetings.
But one way or another, those concerns will resurface, Cegelski said. And when they do, all that work you put in will often be for naught.
Do This Instead: Seek Out Objections
The best way to prevent these false deals from overrunning your pipeline like weeds is to do what Cegelski calls looking for trouble.
The moment you sense hesitation or something feels amiss, call it out, Cegelski said. If the buyer doesn’t look happy when the subject of pricing comes up, ask them about it. Cegelski suggests using the phrase “I’m getting the sense that…” As in, “I’m getting the sense that you might not be crazy about the analytics dashboard. Am I totally off base with that?”
Positioning the concern that way gives the customer space to acknowledge it in their own words.
“My job as a salesperson is to get that person to voice their feelings because if they voice it, we can navigate that together.”
“If someone is feeling hesitance about your thing, it doesn’t matter whether or not they talk about it, they’re feeling it,” Cegelski said. “My job as a salesperson is to get that person to voice their feelings because if they voice it, we can navigate that together.”
It may feel like you’re sabotaging the deal, but it’s better to know your product isn’t the right fit before you spend months chasing after them, Cegelski said. And in some cases, preempting their objections can help you build trust with the buyer and win them over.
Over time, your pipeline of active deals will be smaller, but it will also be more robust.
3. Skipping Customer Research
Sometimes skipping a task to save time can end up becoming addition by subtraction. That’s the case when it comes to doing your customer research.
Sure, you can call more buyers sticking to a script and going down a call sheet, but you won’t have much luck. Buyers can sense when the call isn’t personalized, and have little time to spend with reps who aren’t able to address their issues. You may even miss out on potential advantages that can help you close the deal, said Erica Franklin, director of enterprise account management for education tech company EVERFI.
Do This Instead: Focused Customer Research
If you spend just a few minutes researching the prospect, you may discover that you have contacts in your network who work there and can give you a warm intro. Or perhaps, the client participated in an interview discussing the very issue that your product solves. You may even find out that your company tried to sell them in the past, and there’s information from that experience you can use in your call.
Of course, you can’t spend hours researching every client. That’s why Franklin suggests focusing your research on understanding your prospect’s five W’s (and H):
- Who is your client? This involves understanding their position in their industry, their financials and key stakeholders.
- What does your client do? This means digging in to understand what problems your client is solving for their industry and who their customer-base is.
- Where does your client do business? Understanding where they’re located and what markets they work in will help you identify potential growth opportunities.
- Why do they do the business that they do? This involves identifying their mission and objections, which you can use to tie in what you’re trying to sell.
- When have there been key moments in the client’s history? This includes figuring out the company’s history and growth so you can provide insights relevant to where they’re at.
- How has the company grown? This includes identifying the buyer’s successes and challenges.
Most of that information can be gathered from a company’s LinkedIn page, following key stakeholders on social media and reviewing news articles, said Franklin, who’s also the sales account director for the networking group Sistas in Sales. Answering those questions will help you tailor your pitch to the client’s needs, allowing for a more productive conversation.
“Be sure to research with the purpose of knowing your clients and what their needs are,” Franklin said. “Then take your clients’ needs and align them with the products and services that you sell. This is how you achieve and maintain success in sales.”
4. Trying to Find the Perfect Cold Calling Time
Few tasks in a sales rep’s day can be more demoralizing than cold calling. Some days, you may have nothing to show for it but hang ups, voice mails and rejections.
As a result, everyone is looking for ways to do it better or have more success. There’s no shortage of stories and posts on LinkedIn from sales reps professing to know the secret time when everyone magically answers the phone, Cegelski said. Some claim it’s at 11 a.m., others suggest calling first thing in the morning, others still claim you should schedule them five minutes at the end of the hour because people will be in between meetings.
Maybe there’s some truth to those claims, Cegelski said, but more often than not, he found that reps chasing those cold calling windows end up wasting more time than if they just made the calls in one batch.
Jumping from task to task leads to what’s called “attention residue,” which can impact a person’s performance, according to one study. And research published in the American Psychology Association claims that switching tasks can cost a person 40 percent of their productivity time.
“You get brain fog, and your ability to make critical decisions gets impacted.”
“Have you ever tried to go without drinking coffee for a week? That’s how it feels,” Cegelski said, describing what it’s like task-switching from cold calls to emails to demos throughout the day. “You get brain fog, and your ability to make critical decisions gets impacted.”
Do This Instead: Batch Your Cold Calls Together
The solution to this one is simple. Pick a time and do all of your cold calls at once, Cegelski said.
This technique is known as time batching. It involves grouping a series of like tasks together and completing them all before moving on to your next assignment. The strategy is designed to reduce the attention residue that comes with jumping between assignments, according to an article on Forbes.
If your least favorite task is cold calling, Cegelski suggests starting your day with it. Not because it’s the perfect time to catch the buyer, but simply because the specter of cold calling won’t loom over your head. And, if you’re consistent with it and work on ways to handle objections, you’ll be scheduling meetings over the phone in no time.
5. Relying on LinkedIn to Prospect
But not all activity on the platform is useful, and as it’s grown in popularity with sellers, it takes more to stand out from the crowd than ever before.
That’s why Cegelski considers it a waste of time. Most sales reps he sees on the platform fall into the trap of confusing prospecting with surfing around on LinkedIn, writing a post, liking other content and commenting on threads. While those can be useful activities to support your outreach efforts, they’re ineffective on their own.
“My experience has been that LinkedIn is a procrastination tool to avoid doing the really tough thing, which is picking up the phone and calling a prospective customer,” Cegelski said. “They think, ‘I’m going to post an article from my company every single day … and magically, customers are going to flock to me.’”
In addition, most buyers are senior-level and above, Cegelski said. They’re not looking at who viewed their profile or commented on a post of theirs and thinking “I should reach out to them.” If you want to be more efficient, you’re better off picking up the phone and calling them.
Do This Instead: Use LinkedIn to Supplement Your Cold Calls
The best way to maximize your time on LinkedIn is to treat it like an outreach primer.
It starts with making sure your content and activity on the platform provides value to your buyers. Instead of just liking your prospect’s post or saying “Great point,” tell them why you found it meaningful, Cegelski said. And if you’re going to post a white paper or re-share content, be sure to include commentary that provides value to your prospects. That way, it gives them a reason to engage with it.
Once you’ve interacted with the buyer a few times, it’s time to pick up the phone and call them. If you take these steps, they’re more likely to know who you are and why you’re calling, Cegelski said.
But you still have to make the call. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to reach out to you.
6. Over-Personalizing Your Outreach
One of the earliest lessons sales reps learn is to personalize their outreach as a way to stand out from the batch emails that populate buyer inboxes.
There once was a time when that simply meant finding something small in common with them, be it their former school, hometown or even that you saw a comment of theirs’ on LinkedIn. That time has long since passed, Khan said.
Today, personalization involves reading blogs, skimming company earning reports and identifying ways you can solve their challenges and then packaging that into a creative format like a video message. That approach can be very successful, Khan said, but there’s just one problem — it’s not scalable.
He’s had reps spend 20 minutes crafting three unique emails. While they were well-written and personalized, there’s no guarantee the buyer would even open them, Khan said. Sales is still a volume game. It can be easy to get lost spending hours crafting unique messages for your buyers and still end up well short of your quota.
Do This Instead: Create Relevant Outreach
Instead, Khan suggests focusing on hyper-relevant outreach, not personalized ones.
Khan defines hyper-relevant outreach as an email or cold call approach that addresses a challenge or experience shared by a group of people, not just one person.
“Personalization is not wrong, it’s just not scalable.”
While making cold calls at Dooly, for example, Khan asked sales managers about whether they’ve ever been stressed taking notes after hours of back-to-back calls when they were reps and lost information. The strategy worked because it was a universal experience every sales manager goes through.
“That was personal and relevant,” Khan said. “It was a problem that they live every single day … I’m a seller, you’re a seller. You go through this because I go through this. That’s why I work at Dooly. That’s relevant, that’s not personalization.”
To do so, reps need to first understand their ideal customer profile, what problems their product solves for them and how different features solve them. From there, it’s about identifying trends that a specific group of your buyers go through and then crafting content that would be relevant to all of them.
“Personalization is not wrong, it’s just not scalable,” Khan said. “At what point do you go, ‘I need to do something smarter and better because personalization is hard work?’”