I Still Love Paper

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Old Man Taking Notes Although I’m an evangelist for salespeople using computers, it doesn’t alter the fact that however much I try, I can’t wean myself off paper.

In my book, Sales Automation Done Right, I am downright discriminatory against paper. I’m not backing away from that, because there I’m talking about paper-based processes. Paper isn’t conducive to dynamic workflow; it can’t move itself, so it needs people to pick it up and move it from one desk to another. It accumulates in heaps, and we tend to get intimidated and procrastinate when we have to stare down a leaning tower of paper.

It is much better to make a process electronic and move it using electrons down a wire or through the air. Paper-based information has to be stored in big metal boxes, and it seems to take a lifetime to make some practical use of it. It’s a much better idea to store everything on an xx-terabyte hard drive and use some friendly software to extract the stuff you need.

Before the office computer, paper was always at the heart of the system or process. I remember one system that was used to keep records of all the products we sold. Each product got one or more of those little index card things on which someone could record its history. The only way to share the information was to call the person in charge of the cards and have them read you the stuff you wanted—they were the only ones who knew how to find it. It worked well, but worked much better when we made a complete electronic analogue of it that anyone could access, any place, any time. I’m sure customers benefited from that.

In selling, computers are mostly replacing paper. I walked into a car dealer the other day to look at a specific model I’m interested in. I asked for a brochure and was politely told that they don’t do those anymore. I would have to find stuff online

Even so, I doubt that the paper notebook is going away. It is great at capturing information when you are sitting in front of the customer. You can usually write cryptic notes as fast as you think, which is plenty fast enough. Typing into a computer during conversation puts customers off, but they tolerate, even appreciate, careful note-taking using pen and paper.

Paper is great for capturing information quickly. Paper works with the human mind in splendid unison. If you don’t like what you just jotted down, you can scratch it out. If you love what you wrote, highlight it with a star. If there is no room left to write, put it in the margin or curve it around the perimeter—paper will let you do anything.

But paper is getting challenged. The technology metaphor that’s replacing the paper notebook is the tablet computer – these are rapidly becoming more powerful and user friendly. We’ll take a look at what they can do in future posts.

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