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Inside Sales & Multitasking: Sellers Behaving Badly

You are fooling yourself if you think you can multitask while selling by phone.

Selling by phone requires just as much focus as selling in person does. In fact, I believe it requires even more dedicated focus if you are to pick up on subtle intonations, context and nuance without the benefit of visual cues.

Inside and outside sales reps alike are buying into the myth of multitasking. I seldom see sellers working by phone and doing nothing else simultaneously.

I understand why some tasks are being completed in tandem with the phone conversation. It only makes sense, for example, to enter data gathered into the CRM during the conversation. Checking a buyer's credit or opening their web page to keep advancing the sale makes sense, too. These tasks are directly related to the conversation.

What I object to is all the other multitasking. I'm alarmed by how often I see sellers playing solitaire or minesweep while talking with a buyer. I recently asked a seller why she was playing old school games vs. something more interesting. Without picking up on my sarcasm, she answered that the work computers didn't have many games and that she got more distracted when she played games on her tablet.

It's not just game playing. I've seen a seller fill out a job application in the middle of a sales call. Online surfing is rampant. Working ahead in the CRM to plan the next call before the current one wraps up is also commonplace. I've also witnessed these examples of sellers behaving badly, all in the name of multitasking: eating, texting, e-mailing, addressing a birthday card, talking with a co-worker (with phone muted... hopefully), and crocheting.

When I ask sellers about this, they tell me it doesn't compromise their effectiveness. Several said that multitasking keeps them alert and makes them more effective. More managers agree with them than disagree, and I'm seeing a lot of manager multitasking, too.

Interestingly enough, sellers don't like it when their managers multitask. They want 100% of a manager's attention when meeting together. They feel minimized or annoyed when a manager gives them less than complete focus, checking e-mail or getting distracted by passersby and the like.

They aren't seeing the parallel. Sellers: your buyers feel exactly the same way you do. Just like you can sense your manager's lack of dedicated engagement, so can your buyers feel YOUR lack of engagement when you multitask. You aren't hiding it as well as you think you are.

In fact, you can't really hide the fact that you're doing something else. Multitasking is a myth. You cannot do it as well as you think you can. When you are multitasking, you are impaired. You are doing neither task as well as you would if focused on just one task. One study found that people who were multitasking were about as effective as people with a .08 blood alcohol level. In other words, it's like you are Selling Under the Influence.

When you multitask, you think you are engaged in Attention Splitting. You believe you are capable of effectively splitting your attention between two or more unrelated tasks. Unfortunately, the human brain just doesn't work that way (except for 3% of the world's population who are designated as Super Taskers... Caution: 3% is a small number, so chances are very slim that you are in this group).

Instead of Attention Splitting, what you are actually doing is Rapid Attention Shifting. Every time you shift your attention back and forth, you lose time and focus in both tasks. You miss things. You are inefficient and less effective than you would be with a singular attention to one thing at a time.

You're fooling yourself if you believe you are saving time. You're fooling yourself if you think you are getting more done. You're fooling yourself if you think your buyers are unaware that you're (rudely) dividing your attention. And you're fooling yourself if you think multitasking serves you well.

Top sellers -- like high achieving professionals in any field -- give their full attention to one thing at a time. They aren't distractible because they are dedicated in that moment to doing their best work. They aren't caught off guard and aren't missing opportunities because they are keenly aware of what's going on in the moment.

Research from Mihaly Csikszentmihayli also shows that "full attention in what we do feels good." He calls this being "in the flow" and links being in the flow to higher levels of achievement.

Give it a try. See what happens if you discipline yourself to give your full attention to your buyers. You owe that to yourself and to your buyers.

The CONNECT2Sell Blog has been discontinued as our focus has shifted to leadership at every level. Research with buyers demonstrates that buyers respond favorably when sellers show up as leaders. If you'd like to step into your full potential as a leader (and boost sales!), take a look at our free and affordable courses on