By Terry Nagi June 15 , 2006 -- Enhancements to sales productivity are always at the top of the print executive's list, and certainly a desire of all print sales people. "How can I make myself more effective, to sell more, at higher profits, in less time?" Sales automation, utilizing the power of the computer and user-friendly sales contact management software can be as an important tool for sales people as their cell phone. In fact, sales people from all industries are finding the sales automation tools work as their memory, organizer, their presenter, and customer contact alternative. Studies of salespeople using sales contact management software show sales productivity increases of 7 percent to 12 percent. Still, even though computers are a nearly ubiquitous tool of business, many print sales representatives today still do not use a computer to plan, organize, and track their day-to-day activities, or to increase their efficiency in their prospecting efforts. In fact, some senior sales representatives are either unfamiliar with or intimidated by computer hardware and software. Their reluctance--or ignorance--may well hurt their performance and your total sales. Studies show that salespeople who use sales contact management software to track account activity, plan future call dates and topics, record key events on actual contacts, write letters to clients, prospects, and gatekeepers, update their own mailing lists on a regular basis, and other functions increase their sales productivity by 7 percent to 12 percent. For a million dollar sales person, this would mean approximately $100,000 more in sales. Is there not a better reason to implement sales automation? Getting there is not difficult, once a decision is made regarding objectives and needs. If the digital sales person spends most of the time on the road, get a laptop. The cost will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500 and is generally deceasing. The most important software to be used will be sales contact management. Five to ten major software packages exist including ACT, Access, Maximizer, Goldmine, etc. Take the time to investigate these and other tools and identify the program that will work best for your company. Visit a local computer store, talk with other businesses with outside sales people, and learn what these tools offer and decide which make sense for your needs. These programs all have their strengths and weaknesses so invest the time upfront to identify the right one. Train Thyself Avoid having people waste prime selling time learning how to use the computer. Send people who are computer illiterate to an evening class (see your local high school or community college adult education programs) so they can get up to speed quickly. Then begin training on the sales automation tool of your choice. The first step is to get all your customer information into the system. Devote a 1/2 hour to 1 hour three or four times a week to this process. Begin entering the names, addresses and client information for a few clients each evening. Continue until all clients and prospects and their characteristics are on your software program (which should be backed up on your office computers). Relax, have fun, and play with the computer. If something you try does not work, try something else. If stymied, ask for assistance of a desktop technician or a fellow sales representative who is proficient at the computer. One of the most useful inexpensive educational items are the "Dummy" series published by IDG Books. Above all, learn by doing. The best training system for those new to the computer or those wishing to enhance their skills is self-training. Manuals can be confusing. Seminars can get attention, but much of what is learned is rapidly forgotten. Daily use of the computer is what ultimately is successful. Utilize the on-line support services of the software manufacturer to get out of trouble. If you do need help, there may be online training programs that can be very effective in getting people up to speed. But there is nothing better than regularly sitting down at the computer, during work and spare time, to learn each program important to selling success. Before diving into self-study, several resources should be interrogated regarding their opinion on how to train yourself. The first is one's own electronic prepress manager or technician. They are an excellent resource to ask: * What hardware do you recommend? * How much RAM, hard drive, etc.? * Any ideas on best software for word processing, presentations, contact management, e-mail, Internet browsing, faxing, etc.? * Where should all this be bought? * What training programs would you suggest? * Are there any good local classes? * Which books should I read? * What audiotapes should I listen to? * Are there videotapes I can watch? * Can you help me if I get in trouble? * Any other suggestions on how I can train myself economically, effectively, and quickly? One proviso: don't worry about learning everything contained in a single program. The developers have built multiple functions into any single software package, but generally, less than 50 percent would be important to the professional print sales representative. Use only what is really needed, and forget the rest. Do not shoot for perfection and complete utilization, only effectiveness with what is needed for success. Self Study Materials The manuals that come with most software packages are generally not written for the layperson. Although they should not be tossed away, they are not usually an excellent source for efficient, economical and quick training. The same goes for the "help" menus included in most software packages. They are difficult to browse, deal with only specific problems, and are not great teaching tools. Likewise, the tutorials or tours that exist on most software packages are fun to watch and informative, but provide only the basics. They will get the sales person started, but not build efficiency. One of the most useful inexpensive educational items are the "Dummy" series published by IDG Books. There are other easy-to-use guides, but none come as consistently recommended as the "Dummy" books. These are available at almost any major bookstore or retail computer outlet. They cover almost any and every popular software program, which should be used by professional print sales representatives. They explain everything in laymen's terms and provide systematic instructions in almost every individual part of a software package. The recommended method of using the "Dummy" books is be to read a single Chapter, practice its instructions on the computer, reread and practice again as needed. The objective is to become successful with anything in a single chapter that applies to enhancing the print sales representative's sales success and then move onto the next chapter. A chapter a day would require no more than 40 to 60 minutes of time. Within two weeks, all chapters would be covered. Local training classes can work well but the quality of the training can vary widely. For those who prefer a class over book learning, local community colleges often have computer for training on specific software packages These can work well but the quality of the training can vary widely. Alternatively, there are national firms that bring one-day training centers to most cities. However, these workshops are expensive for what they deliver and I don't recommend them because they are not self-paced for the individual. The ability of the instructor and the pace of the class can significantly limit the how much can be learned. Getting the value out of sales automation tools is up to the individual sales person and the owner, president or leader in an organization. Be sure to understand all that a program can do and how its capabilities can be used to make your sales people more effective. Even if all it does is help prompt them to deliver quotes on time and follow up with customers, a sales automation tool can make a real difference in your business. Take a hard look at the options and start getting automated.