Are CSOs investing their time wisely?

Harvard Business Review recently published a Michael Porter article summarizing a time study of 27 CEOs. What they uncovered was that the average CEO works 62.5 hours a week, including 37 meetings.

I imagine I had the same reaction as most CSOs reading that statistic: ”Oh yeah? I got you beat!” A quick look at my calendar proved it… depressingly.

But the punchline was that the CEOs universally agreed they weren’t managing their time as well as they could be. They reported being handcuffed to email, loading up their calendars with overlong meetings, and committing themselves to activities that had low ROI. I’ll bet most CSOs would acknowledge those failures and more.

And while the exploding sales technologies offer some remedies to time management challenges, the real requirement is a mindset change. Only then can productivity tools (predictive analytics platforms, activity management tools, scheduling tools, virtual meeting tools, etc.) refine the approach.

So what about the CSO mindset about time has to change?

Prioritize long-term over (or at least along with) quarter-close.

Take a ruthless look at your calendar. What proportion of your time is spent on emergencies or near-term fire-fighting, and what is being spent improving the performance of the organization in the long-term? The CEOs in the study made sure that at least 43% of their time was spent on their “core agenda,” whereas 36% was spent on “unfolding events” and 21% on the must-dos. What strategic initiatives will you advance this quarter? Build a talent strategy? Redefine your sales process? Select AI tools for experimentation? Stand up a sales enablement function? In our World-Class Sales Practices study, the #1 issue sales leaders were worried about was “transforming my sales organization.” That takes time.

Set aside thinking time and fuel it with data.

Sales leadership has become a science, tweaking business systems to run data-driven organizations with measurable strategies. It’s easy to get lost in the spreadsheets and the CRM reports. CSOs must set aside, and fiercely defend, unstructured time to reflect on the trends and insights being collected from a range of sources. For example: qualitative exit interviews, win-loss reports, experiences with clients, insights from other CSOs, analysts and more. CSOs need to give themselves a chance to absorb it and consider what it means for the future. Interestingly, in the HBR article, “alone work time” varied broadly by CEO studied, from 10% to 48%. Are you at the high or low end?

Extend internal outreach.

CSOs are often the face of sales to Marketing, Product Development, Operations, Finance, Legal, etc. CSOs need to allocate appropriate time to collaborate with these functions at the strategy level to bring in voice-of-the-customer, anticipate impacts on sales, get sellers involved in advisory boards, etc. Building deep relationships take time but create the foundation on which short-term issues are resolved. Too often, internal connections are less about strategy and more about compliance, superficial alignment, and conflict resolution. How many regular 1:1s do you have outside the sales organization?

Coach leaders. Talk accounts with salespeople.

Much of a CSO’s time is spent getting updates from managers about critical opportunities and accounts. While info exchange is important, the time is better spent coaching managers, modelling the exact behaviors that managers should be using with frontline salespeople. Naturally, such conversations will include funnel info and more. But ask whether the intent of the conversation is to keep you informed or to improve the performance of the manager. Organizations that have a mature coaching process are more successful than those that don’t (see our Sales Enablement Optimization Report). And it starts at the top.

But, not all insights should come via the management layer. It’s vital that CSOs get out in the field, meet customers, connect with the frontline, etc. Leaders use such conversations to support must-win deals, run skip level meetings and get unvarnished experiences with real customers. But, it can’t be the major focus of a CSO, or other priorities will suffer.

Treat time like you do your budget.

While CSOs continuously make decisions about where/when to invest in contractors, whether to institute a travel freeze, etc., they rarely get so stingy with time. CEOs in the study reported that 70% of their meetings were an hour or more. Look at your calendar and determine where you can gain time by shortening meetings. To be more efficient, require agendas for every meeting and use pre-reads to spend more of the meeting processing and less of it information-sharing. Similarly, beware of perpetuating email threads that should be curtailed. Be intentional about cc’ing people on email versus including them as a direct recipient. Agree on acceptable response times, etc. These types of time management techniques have been discussed since the 90s (when we once and for all lost control of work life balance). But most still aren’t using them consistently.

So, how many hours a week should a CSO work?

As much as it takes, of course. After all, there is a number to make! It’s probably not practical to expect less than the 60+ hours per week reported by CEOs. However, where and how that time is being spent may well need a makeover.

Questions to ask (after a careful review of your calendar!)

  • How much of my time is spent making us better for tomorrow?
  • What is my agenda for this quarter, year? (beyond just making my #)
  • Am I spending enough time with my peers?
  • What data do I regularly review and reflect on? Is it future-oriented?
  • How many of my meetings are for information only?
  • How well do I manage my time?


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