By Biff Matthews
The merchant level salesperson (MLS) community has begun 2010 in disaster control mode. Few businesses are considering changing credit card processors or upgrading equipment. All noses are to the grindstone; attention is focused on sales ... and self-preservation.
For MLSs, this is the ideal time to step back and regroup, take a critical look at your professional and personal lives, and get fully organized for the upswing of the business cycle. (Yes, there will be one.)
On the professional side, organization means reviewing sales materials to make sure they're current and have a consistent appearance and message. You'll make the best impression with a look that is crisp and consistent. Now is the time to get rid of mismatched fonts, misspellings and other minor errors you're too busy to tackle when the pace of business is more rigorous.
Sales material is often produced by large companies; the task here is to use the most current information and discard the rest. Also, Microsoft Inc. PowerPoint presentations and flip folders are often personalized, and when they become outdated, it reflects negatively on you. This is a fast-evolving industry where regulatory and other references change continuously. Make sure your support materials communicate the latest developments.
And make sure the marketing tool over which you have the most control - your Web site - sings from the same hymnbook as your print and presentation materials.
While you're online, review your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, and make sure contacts are current and correct.
The next item on the checklist is your work space: Do you have what you need to work efficiently? Are e-mails and other correspondence organized within system files? If so, are they backed up? The best information and greatest intelligence is of little use if lost.
Next, ask yourself if you have the technology to accomplish your work effectively. An excellent article from a recent issue of The Green Sheet suggested that tools for the mobile MLS usually include two cell phones, a laptop and a remote printer - all in good condition and technologically current. Does this describe your tool set?
Few business situations are more tragic than a salesperson who spots the mastodon, reaches back to his quiver and discovers ... no arrow. (When did you last replace your mobile device batteries?)
Factors critical to your work space include appropriate and ergonomic lighting for day and evening. You won't have the time or impetus to change it later, so evaluate it now.
And while you're at it, now is the best time you will have all year to catch up on reading and correspondence. Writing thank-you notes for past events you attended, or to new accounts, is a good place to start.
Also, do research on sources for new leads. Start planning during the year's first and second quarters, and get everything in place. The good (and bad) news is that there will never be a better opportunity to do these vital, but often-postponed, tasks.
The business bestseller Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard suggests that if you continue doing business on the same path, in the same way, your outcomes will be static or will decline.
Who Moved My Cheese? is a parable that sums up, in 94 pages, the nature of our world: things change. They always have changed and always will change. And while there's no one way to manage change, the consequence of pretending it won't happen is always the same: The cheese runs out.
This is the seminal lesson for 2010. Circumstances beyond our control have created a different climate that is intensely competitive. To succeed, we need every advantage. And one of the most powerful advantages is being prepared for the task ahead, with no needless obstacles in the way, such as dead batteries, bad lighting and outdated software.
Checklists, arguably somewhat of a relic, have made a resurgence, thanks to several compelling and well-publicized examples in medicine and elsewhere. An excellent book was released in December 2009 by Atul Gawande called The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Gawande formerly authored Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, which discusses the importance of checklists in hospital infection control.
Perhaps most dramatic is the story of Dr. Peter Pronovost, a critical-care specialist with The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who was named one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2008 by Time Magazine for his work in patient safety. In 2001, he created a simple checklist for medical personnel to follow when putting IV lines into patients, with the goal of avoiding infections. The checklist outlined standard procedures, and the required steps were well known. However, some thought the checklist was foolish, unnecessary or both.
Pronovost asked nurses working in intensive care to observe for 30 days the personnel doing this procedure and record when each step was completed as described on the checklist. Pronovost found that personnel skipped over one or more steps in more than a third of the cases. Given the results, Pronovost was able to convince hospital administrators to authorize nurses to stop personnel if they observed them skipping an item on the checklist; nurses were also to ask each day if any lines should be removed, so they would not be left in place longer than needed. Pronovost and his team monitored their test for one year. The results were stunning: the line-infection rate plummeted from 11 percent to zero. They then followed patients for another 15 months.
Just two infections occurred during this time. It was calculated that, in just this hospital, the use of Pronovost's simple checklist had prevented 8 deaths and 43 infections. It also had an economic impact, saving the hospital $2 million.
Checklists work. Sometimes they save lives - and dollars. They always improve efficiency and effectiveness.
So let's move on to your personal checklist. January is the time to implement a sensible health regime: more sleep, less caffeine, fewer cigarettes. Reach out to friends you've lost touch with.
Take time to consider whether your family's emotional needs are being met, and ask (and be prepared for) the answer. Don't find yourself reflected in a sad country western song because you weren't paying attention. Your family is the backbone that lets you do what you do.
Look further and do a check of your spiritual and moral well-being. (Clue: if your wife has recently come after your SUV with a golf club, you may need to make changes.)
Finally, check the condition of your transportation, your wardrobe and your briefcase. If you are not fully prepared when this economy turns around, you'll have to ramp-up fast - on a timetable that is not your own. Do the personal and professional groundwork now, and enjoy the competitive advantage of readiness.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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