Much has happened to fracture our industry. Now is the time to accept that gains have been wiped out and you must get back to basics. Instead of ruminating on past losses, change your thought pattern and consider this time as a new beginning. You can start by cleaning up your vehicle.

Rick Davis Photo: Tom Gennara Debbie, a dear friend of my wife, is an award-winning pharmaceutical sales representative who prepares for each week by cleaning out the trunk of her car every Friday afternoon. When I asked her about it, she said her employer requires this, but quickly added that she believes in the practice. She told me she "feels ready and sleeps better" when all preparations are in place for her time in the field.

Debbie is required to clean her vehicle because she frequently provides samples to doctors. Thus, it's vital to keep track of those samples to avoid legal ramifications over drug abuse. She also must update her database throughout the day to identify where samples were provided.

But Debbie goes beyond those duties when dealing with her car. She ensures that its exterior and interior are washed and cleaned regularly. When her company chose against providing a portable navigation system, she purchased one on her own, telling me that her extra commissions justified the investment within a couple of months. In short, she treats her car as the primary sales tool of her success.

That's a notion worth stealing. Nothing is more basic to business success than your workspace, and for outside salespeople, your vehicle is that workspace. It should be regarded as much more than a transportation tool to get from point A to point B. It is your portable office. Here's how you should use it.

Carry a database. I persistently stress the importance of a contact database. But if you're an outside sales rep, your database must be a portable tool. At minimum, you want the ability to quickly look up phone numbers. It also should provide quick reference for fill-in sales calls between scheduled appointments. Ideally, you should go the extra distance by keeping a laptop with you so that you can update client notes immediately after meetings, thus saving evening time for your family.

Bring client files along. Top industry salespeople keep a portable file box in their vehicle with a folder for each client. This gives you a central storage device for notes from meetings, quotes, invoices, and copies of correspondence.

Store literature in a box. If you have ever handed a client a wrinkled brochure or found remnants of your morning breakfast on sales literature, then you know the value of this tip. Keep literature in good shape and handy for those opportunities that arise when a client expresses interest in a particular product.

Buy a navigation tool. I have never met anyone with a worse sense of direction than me. The good news is that modern technology has saved me; now I just about never get lost while traveling because of the miracle of satellite positioning. If I can do it, so can you. Global Positioning Systems are now so affordable that they are a must-have for all outside salespeople to buy for themselves, if they can't get the company to pay for it.

It would seem like common sense to keep your vehicle clean for those moments when you are in front of a client or prospect. Yet I have seen enough fast-food wrappers on the floor of vehicles to know that common sense is not always common practice. You would have serious reservations about a doctor or lawyer who has Egg McMuffin wrappers on the floor of his office. You should be no different when it comes to the level of professionalism that you display. Get back to basics and clean up your workspace. The rewards will be plentiful.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: