"I'm spending more and
more time dealing with information. It's squeezing out my selling time."
Welcome to the information
age. You are not unique. This problem of information inundation is a relatively
new but almost universal threat to your livelihood. Four or five years ago,
salespeople were not too concerned with it. Today, dealing with information
is so critical that it is an important part of almost every seminar I present.
Here's the issue. Technological
advances in recent years have multiplied the amount of information that you
must handle. The quantity of information landing on your lap has increased from
sources all around you. Think about how much information you must keep about
your customers. A few years ago, it was OK to keep everything in your head.
Today you need forms, document, files and systems, both electronic and paper,
to keep it all straight. Consider the technical details of the products and
programs you sell. Aren't they more complex and sophisticated than just a few
years ago? And all that complexity takes the form of additional information
that you must organize and master.
What about the computer
systems you use and the information produced by them? Most salespeople I know
could spend eight to twelve hours a week just reviewing computer print outs
if they choose to. Add in memos from the boss, service bulletins, price increases,
government regulations, new product specifications, the details of ever more
complicated applications, etc. and your job is awash in information.
The sheer volume of information
coming at you is like an approaching tidal wave. If you don't create some safe
haven for yourself, you're going to be rendered ineffective by the absolute
mass of information.
Imagine how many precious
selling hours you could waste each week if you don't harness that tidal wave
of information. Or, imagine the time robbed from your family and personal life
by the time it takes to handle more and more stuff.
It's time to recognize the
problem for what it is: A serious and malevolent new threat to your effectiveness.
So, what do you do? How
do you overcome this dragon? How do you get control over the flow of information
and protect your valuable selling time?
One strategy is to become
defensive. In other words, to develop ways to defend yourself from being overcome
with useless information. The idea is to keep tempting but useless information
from stealing your time.
To do so, you need to understand
and implement two key processes. The first is "screening." Imagine the screen
on your window. This fine mesh allows those breezes that you want flowing into
the house, while it keeps out of the house those insects that you don't want.
So, it allows in that which you want, and keeps out that which you don't want.
That's the idea behind the
process of screening - allowing in that which you want, and keeping out that
which you want. Unfortunately, you can't surround yourself with a physical screen.
But you can implement the discipline of "screening" all the information that
comes your way. To do so, you need to establish the habit of quickly assessing
every piece of information that cries out for your time and to quickly decide
if it is likely to be usful. usful is the key and operative
If your quick perusal of
a piece of information leads you to believe that it may be usful, you
let that piece in. If you believe it will not be usful, you keep it
out - in other words, you dispose of it.
Let's imagine a scenario.
You've come into the office and pulled a pile of stuff out of your mailbox.
The first thing you see is a new price list for a product line you rarely sell.
Is this usful to you? Probably not. You throw it out. Next is a service bulletin
on a piece of equipment that you haven't sold in years. Is it usful? Probably
not. Out it goes. Next is a computer report comparing last year's sales in three
product lines to the sales from two years ago on those same lines. Is it usful?
In the round file it goes.
Finally, there's a memo
from the boss outlining the agendas, location and schedules of sales meetings
for the next two months. Better hold on to that one. You continue on this way,
quickly appraising every piece of information, and disposing of every piece
you deem to be not usful.
This whole process may have
only taken a few seconds. But your disciplined "screening" process kept a lot
of "useless" information from sucking away your time. The net effect was that
you created more selling time for yourself by disciplining yourself to keep
out that which is useless, and to allow in that which is usful.
OK, so now you have a pile
of stuff that, on first glance, looked like it might be usful. Now what do
you do? Implement the second key process - triaging. You may be familiar with
the word. It has a medical origin. In every hospital emergency room, there is
someone who performs the 'triaging' function. They make a quick assessment
of the condition of the incoming patients, and then send them to different degrees
and types of treatment depending on that initial assessment. So, one person
is told to wait in the waiting room for a while longer, another is sent directly
to the OB department, yet another is admitted to surgery, etc. The person who
does the triaging sends each patient to a location for treatment based on that
That's what you do with
the pile of information on your desk. You look at each piece of information,
and send it to the location where it can be dealt with appropriately. So, for
example, you have a spot for "Read and handle immediately." You have a file
for "Put this stuff into my account folders." You have a folder for "Study this
when you have time." You have yet another marked "File with product information."
Now that you know what your
options are, you are ready to 'triage' the pile of information on your desk.
Look at each piece, and place it in the location where you can deal with it
appropriately. If you have thought about this before hand and arranged an effective
file system, this process may take you a just a few moments. At the end of that
time, you have everything in its place and you can now deal with it in the time
and place you choose. You sit down with the "Read and handle immediately" pile
and process that. The "study this when you have time" file goes in your briefcase
to be reviewed while you are waiting for appointments, or on those occasions
when you are having lunch by yourself. The stuff for "account folders' and "product
folders" goes home with you and is reviewed and filed in your home office all
at once on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings.
By implementing these two
disciplines, you've taken what could have been an hour or two of information-engagement
and turned it into a few moments of disciplined involvement on your part. You've
gotten back hours of selling time, and not allowed the tidal wave of information
to wash you away.
This process of screening
and triaging can work for you with any kind of information. Apply
it to your list of daily emails and email attachments. Ditto the stuff in your
inbox, and the pile of envelopes and catalogues that appear every day in the
mail. Do the same with your choice of Internet surfing and TV channel hopping.
Unfortunately, the information
rich world in which we live has created a situation where some of the techniques
and strategies that used to work for you are no longer as effective as they
once were. To maintain your effectiveness in a rapidly changing world, you need
to take on new skills and processes. Defending yourself from the tidal wave
of information which threatens to drown you is one of them.