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Sales Make it Happen

Continuous Partial Attention

by Linda P. Kester

I'd like to dedicate this article to Michael Granieri who passed away May 19, 2004. Michael was the first person to write in and defend me when Leasing News ran the headline Linda Kester Pro or Con. It took a lot of courage for my competitor to put his name on the line and stick up for me. Michael, I'm forever grateful.

Continuous Partial Attention

At a recent sales training seminar a rep had his laptop open while I was presenting. His manager told him, in front of everybody, to shut it. He responded that he was taking notes. The manager said he didn't care and to still shut it.

Was the rep taking notes?

Or was he looking at the status of his NCAA pool?

I don't know.

What I do know is that while the other reps weren't being as blatant about it, there were times when they didn't give me their undivided attention. Now, don't get me wrong, there were some reps hanging on my every word-I'm not boring! But adults are so used to pretending that they are paying attention, when they aren't, that they are good at it. If anyone walked into the room they would think that each participant was extremely focused on the material, but if what I'm saying is hitting home then I'm causing them to think about that prospect they need to follow-up with.

The bottom line is most sales reps, like most vendors you call on, are preoccupied.

There was an interesting article in Newsweek recently that labeled this new phenomenon, Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). It's multiple work distractions such as e-mail, instant messaging, web surfing, text messaging, and cell phones. I find it happening more and more in my seminars. Reps have their Blackberry's on and laptops open in front of them. I am competing for their attention.

But I have to confess, I have a certain fondness for CPA. People with Blackberry's and mobile phone headsets that look like something out of Star Trek seem more interesting than the rest of us. (As long as they are not rude.) I like gadgets and I like to play and banter with my friends. It's hard to just sit here and type this article when I want to toggle back to my e-mail and see if any of my friends have sent something funny. Even before Blackberry's and cell phones most adults only gave continuous partial attention.

We're good at it.

Think of how many meetings you've been in, and you were so bored! You were barely paying attention. I'm sure you looked as if you were paying attention, but your mind was somewhere else.

We can multi task, that's one of the reasons we do it. And let's be honest, some work activities are so brainless that we can easily do two things at once.

In leasing sales we're constantly multi-tasking. Conveying approval status, documentation, funding, and customer service. We always have many different files in front of us. Each with a different objective.

Since it's inevitable that people will practice CPA, I think we should take the label of Continuous Partial Attention and see it in a positive way. Especially with prospecting.

If I could get semi-successful sales reps to give CPA to their top 20 prospects they would become even more successful.

If I could get struggling reps to give CPA to qualified vendors and then identify their top prospects and keep in touch with them on a continuous partial basis, consistent continuous partial basis, they would stop struggling.

Now you could argue "Linda, to become truly successful you must learn to focus your efforts." That's true. If I could get each and every rep to completely focus their efforts, the leasing industry would be unstoppable. But that's not what happens. A struggling rep is so happy to finally get an application that they put all their effort into convincing the credit department to approve their one deal. They happily take their focus off prospecting.

The semi successful rep is busy servicing his vendors and lessees, so he puts off prospecting entirely. He gets caught up in the urgent nature of this business and pays no attention to the important but seemingly not so urgent task of prospecting.

Let's make a manifesto to practice CPA on prospecting. This means that no matter how caught up in credit and documentation problems that we take some time every day to give CPA to our top prospects. Put prospecting into your routine of phone calls, text messaging, and e-mailing.

Your prospects are practicing CPA too. Make it a game! Give them your CPA and see if you can break their CPA so they give you're their UDA (Undivided Attention).

By the way, I asked my husband to edit this article for me. His response was "Only if I can do it while watching TV." I can always count on his CPA.

Linda Kester helps leasing companies attract more vendors. To read more articles or purchase her leasing sales tips CD visit.