Is too much info making you miserable and losing you sales?

With information comes choice and without proper guidelines and filters in place, too much information and too many choices can lead to indecision.

Indecision can then lead to paralysis, making us unhappy, unproductive, and at worst, ineffective. In sales careers, or any role for that matter, too much information and the subsequent indecision is a real killer – in fact, making no decision is far worse than making the wrong decision.

Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory at Swarthmore College in the US and author of The Paradox of Choice states “too much choice is paralysing us and making us miserable”. I can’t help but agree. At times I feel I am drowning in a tsunami of information and feel increasingly confused as I try to work out what to focus on and what to discard. I am not alone in these feelings; many people I speak to are also reporting feeling overwhelmed and anxious by all the ‘noise’. Some are even checking out of mainstream information and news sources and choosing to dramatically reduce their diet of information.

In our haste to keep up, be on top of things, be seen as the one with all the answers, and be ahead of the pack, are we inadvertently creating a climate of confusion, indecision, and unnecessary distress by exposing ourselves and our teams to too much information? I suggest the answer is ‘yes’.

For instance, there is a learned behavioural syndrome called ‘Overpreparer’ which can account for 40%+ drop in sales productivity for sales people with Overpreparer tendencies. It is often caused by organisations placing undue importance on the need to be overly prepared and knowledgeable. Being prepared takes precedence over getting out and selling. For instance, in banking and finance where compliance is important, Overpreparing is often creating a culture of indecision and paralysis by analysis where sales people use it as an excuse to not prospect and sell.

Despite feeling out of control we can in fact regain control over how we process, use and manage information. Having a clear head and removing clutter from our lives is critical if we want to be productive and effective. As promised in Noise Reduction part 1, here we will explore some strategies that may help us reduce the ‘noise’ and recalibrate our signal-to-ratio (SNR). So in the spirit of less is more, here are some simple principles we can follow as a guide to effective noise reduction and decision making:

Step 1: Set clear goals

  • Clear goals help you determine what to focus on and what information you need to have at hand to help you achieve your goals.
  • Clear goals help you prioritise your thinking and actions, assisting you in planning each step of the way.

Step 2: Determine what you need to know

  • Put in place filters that will help you determine what information you want to focus on. Does this information help you get closer to the goals that are important to you?
  • Work out what is ‘essential’, ‘desirable’ and ‘nice-to-have’, and prioritise in that order.
  • Cultivate a scientific mindset – scientists begin by defining a hypothesis, then look specifically for data or information that either corroborates or refutes that hypothesis.
  • Determine what information and networks your business and your sales people need to be aware of in order to make good decisions (ie. market trends, competitors, product innovations, changes in legislation, etc.)
  • Find out what your clients are interested in reading and hearing.
  • Find sites and networks that keep you up-to-date with the latest trends and are quick and easy to read.
  • Make sure your CRM is collecting useful client and market information that is aligned to your goals and can be applied in a meaningful manner (ie. creating client buying patterns report, etc), then ignore the rest.

Step 3: Determine effectiveness

  • What information (blogs/references/forums/publications/social media sites/networks, etc.) are proving to be useful to you (your customers, your business and your communities)? Why?
  • Check why you originally chose this information or network sources and ask if they are still relevant.
  • Determine how often you use these information sources.
  • Check how you apply these information sources in your job or in your communication with each other and clients/suppliers (tangible outcomes, practical solutions, etc.)
  • Verify what is ‘fact’ and what is not. Is it evidenced based? Is it supplied by a reputable source that can be validated and checked?
  • Check how quickly it takes you to gain a quick and concise understanding of the content.

Step 4: Prioritise and don’t be afraid to limit your options

  • Count how many subscriptions you currently have or networks you belong to; check for duplications (ie. similar blogs, sites or networks offering the same information) and irrelevant sites or networks (not aligned to your goals) then cull.
  • Reduce your ‘daily’ alerts to ‘weekly’ alerts.
  • Don’t check your emails every time they arrive, make time to check every 15-30 minutes or so.
  • Create a new email address exclusively for your subscriptions so your working email is not cluttered up with low priority data.
  • Synchronise your bookmarks.
  • Create a filing system that allows you to reference your information quickly and easily.
  • Link new information to what you already know. Drawing concept maps is one such way that helps you to build knowledge over time and draw links between ideas and knowledge sources.
  • Allocate specific times, twice or three times per week, to review your subscription information sources rather than being constantly interrupted by incoming alerts.
  • If you need to surf the web, make time to do so when it doesn’t interfere with your work priorities.

Step 5: Find some quiet time

  • Allow your mind and your senses to rest and switch off. Being overly anxious narrows your focus and limits your ability to sort through and process information effectively.
  • As strange and boring as this may sound, find time to do mundane tasks that do not require you to process complex information.
  • Do some regular exercise like yoga or go for a run to get in touch with your body, breath, heart and nature.
  • Meditation requires effort to achieve single pointed focus, however the daily practice of meditation quiets the busy mind and gives you the space you need to recharge and recover from information overload.

As you can see, even discussing reducing noise creates noise, and the signal-to-ratio spiral continues… Without running away to live in a cave, my best suggestion is to take on board a couple of things; stop reading about reducing noise and get out there and sell. By staying focused on a few keys things and taking action we might just find that the noise fades into a faint, background murmur and we are happier and more productive as a result.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to www.barrett.com.au.

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