Most salespeople love to be active - out in their territories, seeing people, solving problems, putting deals together. This activity orientation is one of the necessary characteristics of a sales personality. A day sitting behind a desk is their idea of purgatory.

Unfortunately, this activity orientation is both a strength and a weakness. Much of a salesperson's ability to produce results finds its genesis in the energy generated by this activity orientation.

It can, however, be a major obstacle. Far too often, salespeople are guilty of going about their jobs directed by, "Ready, shoot ... aim." The luxury of this kind of unfocused activity is a casualty of the Information Age. In order to be effective, salespeople must be focused and thoughtful about everything they do. Activity without forethought and planning is a needless waste of time and energy. The most important part of the job to think about is the time spent in front of their prospects and customers. Of all the different parts of their job, there is nothing more important to think about - nothing more important to plan - than that.

For most salespeople, if they were to make a list of everything they do in the course of a day, and then considered each of the items on the list, they'd likely discover that almost everything they do can be done cheaper or better by someone else within their company. Someone else can call for appointments cheaper or better than the salesperson. Someone else can more easily check on back orders. Someone else can fill out a price quote, write a letter, or deliver a sample, cheaper or better than most salespeople.

In fact, it's likely that the only thing a salesperson can do that no one else in the company can do cheaper or better is interact with the customers. It's the face-to-face interaction with customers that defines the value they typically bring to the company. If it weren't for that, your company would have little use for salespeople.

So, the face-to-face interaction with the customer is the core value salespeople bring to the company. Yet, most studies indicate that the average outside salesperson only spends about 25 percent to 30 percent of the working week actually face-to-face with the customer.

In the light of that, doesn't it make sense to spend some time planning and preparing to make that 25 percent to 30 percent of a salesperson's week the highest quality time spent possible?

Of course it does.


Mastery of this practice is built upon several powerful principles. Here's the first: Good decisions require good information.

Remember, it's the Information Age, and that means an effective professional salesperson collects, stores, and uses good information. Effective plans cannot be made if the information is faulty or sketchy.

If a salesperson were to build a home, for example, they would want to know about the nature of the ground on which the home is to be built. It would be wise to have a good idea about what kind of weather conditions the home would be enduring, what the building codes are, what materials are available, what they cost, and what kind of skilled workmen are required. The list could go on and on.

The point is that a home couldn't be built very effectively if there isn't good information on which to base its plans. The same principles apply to delivering effective sales performances as to building a home. In both cases, good planning requires good information.

It may be that the company provides all the information necessary, but it's more likely it doesn't. If a salesperson wants good information, they often must be the one who collects that information. Creating systems to collect, store, and use the information gathered will be the most helpful.

Since the world is constantly producing new information, the created system isn't something done once and then forgotten. Rather, it must be a dynamic system that is constantly processing, storing, and using new information.


Creating and maintaining an information collecting system is a matter of following several specific steps.

  • Step one: Create a list of information categories desired. Professional salespeople think about and determine what kind of information allows them to deal effectively with customers. Most salespeople find that customer, prospect, competitor, product, program, and service information are good places to begin. There are a number of other categories, but this basic list will get salespeople started.

  • Step two: Once categories are created, they must be filled. Working with one category at a time, brainstorm a list of desired information for each category.

    Starting at the top and working down, look at customers and prospects first. Ideally, what knowledge would benefit a salesperson most? Some typical pieces of information could include information about the account's total volume of the kind of products sold, the dates of contracts that are coming up, the people from whom they are currently buying, and so forth. All of this seems pretty basic, however, most salespeople have no systematic way of collecting and storing this information.

    While salespeople may occasionally ask certain customers for parts of the information, they probably aren't asking every customer for all the information. Most likely, they're not storing it or referring to it in a systematic, disciplined way, either.

    Competitors probably don't know exactly how much potential each of their accounts has. They probably don't know other useful pieces of information, like how many pieces of production equipment each customer has, the manufacturer, and the year of each purchase, either.

    Collecting good, quantitative marketing information will better equip a salesperson to make strategic sales decisions and create effective plans. For example, they'll know exactly who to talk to when the new piece of equipment from ABC manufacturer is finally introduced, and who is really ripe for some new, cost-saving product that's coming, or the new program a company is putting together.

    A salesperson may currently be doing a so-so job of collecting information, however, this tool is like golf. Anyone can hit a golf ball, but few can do it well. Anyone can obtain information, but few salespeople do it well.


  • Step three: Develop a system and tools to help information collection. The single most effective tool is an account profile form. It's an incredibly effective device that generates and organizes some of the most powerful processes.

    An account profile form is a form full of questions, or more precisely, spaces for the answers to questions. The questions are about each account a salesperson has. The form is the document on which useful information is stored. It can exist on paper or electronically. When using contact-management software on a laptop computer or PDA, the account profile form can be several screens for each account. If the information is not computerized, then it needs to be created on paper. Regardless of the media, the principles and processes are the same.

    A well-designed, systematically executed account profile provides a way to collect quantitative information that allows a salesperson to know each customer more thoroughly than the competition. All the pieces of information, that are potentially important, can be collected and stored in the blanks on the account profile form. Create a one-page form with blanks in it for each of the quantitative pieces of information desired.

    In addition to the quantitative information about the business, it is necessary to have another version of the form for each of the key individuals within those accounts. This is called a personal profile, and it is a mechanism to collect personal information about key decision-makers.

    Apply the same concept and principles to the task of collecting personal information about the key decision-makers within your accounts. It is possible to end up with one document for the company and 10 to 15 personal profiles for all the key people within that account.

    Now, imagine getting ready for the next sales call on that customer and reviewing the things that he likes to talk about, the name of his spouse, and the names and schools of each of his kids. When planning the presentation, review the primary buying motivation for each of the key people. This step should create a salesperson that is better prepared to have an enjoyable, relationship-building conversation with a customer that will increase the likelihood of delivering a powerful and persuasive presentation.

    Finally, the form allows a salesperson to store important information someplace other than in their head. When information is kept only in a salesperson's head, it isn't always readily accessible. When a salesperson wants to have a relaxed conversation with one of their customers about his interests, they can't always remember that the client is a golfer and was a starting halfback on his college football team. If the information is stored on a form, however, a salesperson can review it just before going in to see the customer, putting it uppermost in their mind.

    To some degree, every good salesperson implements these concepts. The difference between the run-of-the-mill salesperson and the exceptional salesperson is the degree to which the committed salesperson disciplines their self to stick to a systematic approach. Most salespeople do it as they think of it, but don't keep the information systematically. Masters of planning understand the need to discipline themselves, and thus do a more thorough job of collecting information.


  • Step four: Store it efficiently. A salesperson may have done a great job of collecting information, but if it's stored on old matchbook covers, coffee-stained post-its, and the backs of old business cards somewhere in the backseat of a car, it's probably not going to do much good.

    If it's computerized, then the computer can be the super tool that allows a salesperson to efficiently store the information. If not, then there needs to be a set of files (yes, manila folders) created to store the information.

  • Step five: Use it regularly. Before every sales call, a salesperson should review the stored infor-mation. This review will help with good decision making about each aspect of the sales call. Likewise, a salesperson should review the information when creating annual goals and sales plans, account strategies, and during territory organization and planning.

    An account profile form is a master tool that holds all of this together.

    This article was adapted from "Take Your Performance Up a Notch," Chapter 3, by Dave Kahle. He is a consultant and trainer who helps his clients increase their sales and improve their sales productivity. For more information, contact The DaCo Corporation, 3736 West River Drive, Comstock Park, MI 49321; 800-331-1287 or visit,

    Publication date: 03/27/2006