I recall well my first day of outside sales back in 1976. That morning, I got my notebook, calculator, some pencils, and my beeper and made my way to the front door. I remember opening that door and saying to myself, “WOW … Which way do I go and what do I do first?”

This is a trap that a lot of people fall into: Not being prepared for the day. Each of us has a unique opportunity to build our business, and at the same time we must help make our customer’s business succeed. The key to our success is our customer’s success.

In this age of computers and technology we have endless means of communication and many tools to organize our business. Here are the tools I use to eliminate mistakes while making my time more effective.

Notes We all have used notebooks for writing down orders, and while this is a great way to take orders it’s not a good way to store them. They can get forgotten or lost if you are not careful. While I do write everything in a notebook, I transfer every day anything that has not been completed into a list of items in my computer’s task folder in Microsoft Outlook. If you don’t use Outlook, you’re missing out on a great means of organizing your business. In its task section you have the ability to organize your schedule into custom folders, such as phone calls to make, orders to place, items to fix, and so on. You also can prioritize this list according to importance. The task function lets you filter this list by any topic needed so that you can break it down to a handful of things that you are working on now. These filters can be turned on and off with a click of the mouse.

Dates Of course, everyone is familiar with a calendar. However, I’m not sure everyone uses it in their business to its fullest ability. If you put your appointments and deadlines in your computer’s calendar and sync it with your smart phone then you have a constant reminder of events. Use features like the alarm to remind you of the event in advance so that you are not late. And if you have repeating events like customer birthdays you will always remember them.

Names I know everyone has phone numbers stored somewhere. Some are in your smart phone, some in your Rolodex at your office, and some you just remember. But having this information stored in your computer’s contact folder allows you to, again, sync your smart phone with your computer and have this valuable information stored safely and available at a moment’s notice. Also, in this folder you can store information concerning other parts of this customer’s business that you may need to use later.

There is a big difference between knowing and doing it. A lot of people know it but need some help with skills in doing it. Putting these skills in your bag of sales tools will make a difference in being able to do it.

Jackie Allmond is an outside sales representative for VNS Corp.’s Choo Choo Build-It Mart in Rincon, Ga. An October 2009 ProSales profile argued that Allmond may be America’s best LBM sales rep. Contact him at jallmond@vnscorp.com.