As humans, we can’t avoid forgetting things. It’s in our nature. Forgetting, though, has a high price — often more than the reward for remembering.
We think that we have good memory, when we don’t. Research shows that our short-term memory lies to us, a lot. It could be a dangerous blind spot.
Systems are aides to memory. When we structure data properly, like we do in a CRM system, we can use it to help us avoid forgetting.
Reducing your team’s odds of forgetting requires leadership. Coaching good note-taking and data practices will help your team succeed.
Every one of us forgets things, even really, really important things, quite often. Sometimes, we’re absent-minded, so we leave our coffee cup on the kitchen counter as we head to work. Or, like this author, leave an iPad charging in the airport as you board an overseas flight. Sometimes we forget to make plans for an anniversary or birthday. More commonly, we fail to remember information that we knew was important during a conversation. There’s no end to what we can’t remember because there’s no end to what we must not forget.
The price of forgetting
When we forget, we often have to pay a price. When we leave the coffee cup on the counter, we then buy coffee on the way or drink the brown-tinted liquid from the community urn. Our day is worse off, or our wallet is lighter because we forgot.
When we remember, things work well.
The price of forgetting, however, is often higher than the reward of remembering. Consider a birthday dinner for your partner. A nice dinner at a fancy restaurant is a pleasant experience, you and your better half are happy and enjoy the evening. If you forget, you’ve probably upset them – you’re doing damage control. You must “make it up” to them. You spend more time, money, emotion, and worry because you forgot.
Forgetting is a punishing experience
The price we pay is a punishment. Sometimes we punish ourselves, and sometimes others punish us. Often, this punishment is the loss of an opportunity. Feedback for this kind of punishment is variable. Sometimes we know the consequence right away – the high school senior drops the college from their list of schools. Other times we may never know. We are blind to the feedback – we miss an opportunity we didn’t know that we had.
We think that we remember
People have good short-term memories, by and large. One of the pioneers of memory research found that we can retain strings of nonsense syllables reasonably well for about six minutes. After twenty minutes, though, retention is below 60%. After an hour, we’re lucky to recall 40% of what we initially remembered. By the next day, it’s down to 25%1Howes, M. B. (2007). Mainstream foundations: the associative model of memory. In Human memory: Structures and images (pp. 19-34). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781483329222.n2. In other words, we aren’t great at remembering large amounts of information for very long. Think back to your elementary school spelling tests. You’d learn to remember the words for the test, then quickly forget them. Spelling tests really teach us how to cram at a very young age.
Short-term memory is dangerous. That’s because it makes us think that we have remembered something. It tricks us into thinking this because short-term memory can feel like we have a sensory recording tool in our heads. We believe that can quickly recall what a person said a few minutes ago – just like scanning a video. Whether we can or not, the danger is that our long-term memory doesn’t work like that at all. Psychology and neuroscience show us that long-term memories form through a process called consolidation. When we sleep, for example, our brains commit some of our short-term memories to our long-term storage. It turns out that emotion, cognition, importance, environment, and a whole host of other factors affect which memories are stored.
We worry about forgetting. We humans are a crafty bunch, so we’ve made ways to cope with our faulty memories. We create mnemonics, build patterns and routines, record calls and conversation, and take notes, to name just a few. Some of these we do thoughtfully, others reflexively. Note-taking is a great way to improve memory. We even have scientific research to prove it2Middendorf, C. H. & Macan, T. H. (2002). Note-taking in the employment interview: Effects on recall and judgments. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 293-303. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.87.2.293.
These countermeasures aren’t perfect – they help us, but they don’t remember for us. While notes help us improve our memory, their other value is telling us what we forgot in the future. The trouble is remembering to check the notes. Indeed, building a habit to review notes would help, too. For salespeople, a pre-call client note review is quite helpful. Sadly, salespeople are busy people who skip routines from time to time.
Systems as memory
We can’t think our way to better memory; we can’t trick ourselves into it either. But we can use simple technology. For salespeople, putting notes into a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system should be second nature. But, just putting notes into a call report still requires us to remember to read them when we need them.
Computers are built to remember. They have short and long-term storage that works predictably and reliably. Here are five ways your sales team can forget less by using your well-implemented CRM system.
Five tips to never forget
Don't forget — change takes time
Encourage and support your salespeople to take better notes, record them in your CRM system, and use the CRM system to help them remember better. As with any change, there will be leaders and laggards. It’s your job to reward behaviors, encourage adoption, and coach better adherence.