Sales Slump Linked to Mindless E-mail

Jun 20, 2007
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Before you hit Send on that next e-mail, stop for a moment. Pausing to decide whether it contains relevant information worth the recipient's time--or just contributes to the cyberchatter--could help save your company $309 million in lost sales.

A new pharma industry study by research and consulting firm Best Practices found that that's the amount lost each year--per company--due to "unnecessary internal communication." Accidental use of Reply All, mislabeled voicemails, and receiving the same e-mail from three different departments take up an average of 4.4 hours of a single sales rep's week. That's one-third of the entire time they spend dealing with internal communications. "What we're finding is that communication can be an accelerator and a detractor of productivity," said Best Practices CEO Chris Bogan.

Not only that, but these misdirected communiqués cost companies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales. The study based its numbers on an annual sales average of $3.5 million per sales rep at 1,000 reps per company. These wasted hours could be used to meet with physicians--or at least to drop off samples and make nice with the receptionist--but instead, reps are stuck listening to voice messages up to five minutes long. "If you get three or four of those, that's up to 20 minutes just listening to messages instead of selling," Bogan said. He added that reps often work later hours to deal with the excess e-mails and voicemails, leading to faster burnout.

These results came as a surprise to Bogan. The industry had never looked at the effect of new technology on sales-rep output. "Typically, people focused on productivity factors like client relationships and closing abilities," he said. "Now we've got these land mines of unproductivity."

And it's not just the reps. First-line managers, too, suffer from cluttered in-boxes. But it's their job, Bogan said, to act as a communication filter between management and the field reps.

So how do you clean out those in-boxes? Bogan advises his clients to train their managers to write efficient subject lines and to prioritize e-mails. Reps reported that the best managers tag material--using "FYA" for "action" items and "FYI" for "information" e-mails or applying a system of stars to denote importance. Bogan cited one company that removed the Reply All button from its e-mail client's tool bar. That simple step led to an 84 percent reduction in misdirected e-mails.

Reining in voicemail creep may be tougher, though, and Bogan noted that most field organizations use voicemail more than e-mail. While it's not possible to prevent people from leaving voice messages, you can set limits on the length of the messages and the number of messages tacked on to forwarded calls. "People tend to forward messages excessively," he said. "And each time they forward one, they add their own, and then you get these long wagon trains."

The key is to set standards--and to communicate them loud and clear, lest they get lost in the e-noise. "We've created these tools to keep us well connected, but there's a lack of oversight," Bogan said. Imposing standards streamlines communication and increases productivity, he added.

"Right now, the tools are using us," Bogan concluded. "We need to use the tools."

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