3 negative effects of multitasking during sales calls (and how to avoid distraction)

by Steli Efti

The biggest challenge for people working in inside sales? It's what I call the inside sales distraction trap.

What's that?

It's the screen facing almost every inside salesperson. Usually, there's a browser open with plenty of open tabs.

And you "need" all of them: your email inbox, your sales CRM, your web conferencing tool, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, the websites of prospects, a good article on objection management (and let's not forget Quora ;)).

So while you're having sales calls and doing online demos, you have a massive distraction right in front of your eyes. Constantly calling for your attention, creating a hard-to-resist temptation to go off track—kind of like the Sirens calling Odysseus.

I've observed this playing out over and over again so many times, both with myself and with others:
  • Being on a sales call and then getting distracted by email
  • Or while on the call, switching to check out HackerNews
  • Or Twitter ...
  • Or anything that distracts your attention away from your current call

THAT'S A TERRIBLE WAY OF OPERATING! 

Why?

Because ...

  1. It disturbs the flow of your conversation. The moment somebody diverts some of their attention from the conversation to their screen, you can almost hear it on the other end of the line if you're listening carefully. Because it disconnects you and your prospect. The number of pauses and filler words (um, ahem, uh, you know, well ...) goes up dramatically.
  2. You know the difference between "hearing the words" and truly understanding what they mean? True understanding is difficult if you divide your attention between different things.
  3. You're putting yourself in a suboptimal state. Your "superpowers" turn on when you're fully engaged—that's when you perform at your best. You can't be the best salesperson you can be if you're doing 12 other things while being on a sales call. If you want to be on top of your game, full engagement is a prerequisite. The more time you spend in a suboptimal state, the more you get used to it, the more habitually you fall back into that state, and the more it affects everything else that you do. It blurs your entire day, instead of you being sharp and clear and mentally alert.

Don't multitask during a sales call. Give the prospect your full, undivided attention.

A lot of people know that being distracted limits their performance, yet they keep doing it.

Why are we driven to distraction?

Because ...

  1. We inside salespeople can do it. We've gotten used to a constant stream of screen interruptions. A large part of our life is now a never-ending consumption of things, being constantly connected to the web. And that behavior, that way of functioning, is something that sticks with us even when we work. Our brain doesn't make a clear separation; it's just the modus operandi we're used to.
  2. Something in the conversation with the prospect is going fundamentally wrong. Maybe the conversation is taking too long. Or the prospect is talking about things you're not interested in. Or it takes way too long to describe something. Thus, giving them your full attention just gets harder. Your brain starts to look for a distraction, trying to find something more interesting and more engaging. Your brain is trying to do you a favor by directing you away from the pain of a conversation that causes you bad feelings to something that makes you feel more positive.

But you really need to fight that urge.

Don't find a less painful way of living with the problem. Don't get better at enduring the pain. Instead, resolve the problem!

Is the conversation going on for too long? Take control, and shorten it. Direct your prospect to stay on track so that both of you make the most effective use of your time.

How to protect yourself from falling into the inside sales distraction trap

How did Odysseus resist the Sirens?  He knew he wouldn't be able to resist, so he ordered his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast. He was realistic—he knew his own limitations and tendencies.

You don't have a mast in your office, so here are some alternatives:
  • Turn off your screen.
  • Put your computer into sleep mode.
  • Put on a wireless headset and go for a walk. (A lot of great salespeople I know like to do this because walking stimulates more creative parts of their brains.)
  • Be away from your screen while you are talking and conversing with somebody.
  • Minimize all the tabs (I love Momentum which makes the default tab that I open something that helps me to focus, or OneTab).

The benefits of being 100% focus on a call? You'll be sharper, you'll be able to catch all the little clues, read between the lines, and have a better sense of timing. You'll be fully engaged and on top of your game. You'll feel better and be more successful. Enough said :). 

Recommended reading: