Friday, August 14, 2009

Toward Ever Greater Efficiencies

It really is a whole new world out there. Yesterday I was talking with a friend about the efficiencies the Internet offers. Instead of driving to the bookstore and looking for a book, I can go to and read reviews, buy it used or new and never leave my office. The retailers who have “pure” eCommerce businesses never concern themselves with a dressy showroom floor, sales staff standing around waiting for customers or any of that. They have shelves and a warehouse, servers and tech people keeping the show running. Efficiency is the name of the game.

Well, salespeople are learning about efficiencies, too. Instead of platte(sp) books and trips to the library or County Office Building, they have been discovering an increasing variety of web tools to help generate leads, reduce time preparing contact lists, etc.

Here’s an interesting story about a guy in real estate, Justin McClelland, who found a screen scraping tool for harvesting data and organizing it. The product he found is Mozenda and the amazing thing for Justin was that he could do it for two weeks on a free trial basis. What I found interesting is how quickly he learned it, and also how quickly he was eager to share this “secret weapon” with others. He even made a YouTube video to show how easy it is to use.

Evidently the program is so easy to use he didn’t even need to call tech support, though he acknowledges that he has a small measure of programming or computer-related experience.

McClelland’s business is called and to my surprise I was able to find and follow him on Twitter under the handle Schwaps if you want to follow him.

Maybe you know a few efficiencies yourself. Certainly Google has helped make finding information easy. I routinely found myself calling the library help desk to verify information earlier in my writing career. I can’t remember the last time I called the library help desk.

Efficiency isn’t everything, but it’s something. It helps companies remain competitive in a fast paced world. In Orson Welles’ film adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial the main character works as an accountant at a company in which there are more than eight hundred accountants sitting at desks with ledger books and adding machines. That room full of adding machines has been replaced by a computer today.

The human cost of progress is a major challenge for business owners when it comes to the efficiencies of automation and technology. This was my friend's concern. How far should we go in the adaptation of technologies that replace jobs? On the other hand, in a global economy, to what extent do we have a choice as other countries produce goods with increasing ease and reduced costs?

That was the real discussion yesterday. He said that business consultants are now reading Seneca, the Roman stoic philosopher, in order to have a more humane approach to decisions affecting employees. My feeling is that failing to incorporate efficiencies into a business model is a sure way to doom it so that all your employees' jobs are imperiled.

If I get a chance, I might examine Seneca, but the Golden Rule is pretty good guidance, too, when it comes to treatment of employees: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And as for efficiency, it is one part of the equation for success that keeps us competitive, helping us to leverage our time so we can do the real work of closing deals, providing good service or producing products needed in the marketplace.

Ask Justin McClelland. Would he rather spend four hours or four thousand hours assembling a list of prospects for his business?

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