Case Study: Case of Analysis Paralysis

One fourth of all salespeople tested in the world (more than 500,000) have a form of Inhibited Social Contact Initiation Syndrome, commonly characterized by Analysis Paralysis. Psychologists and researchers George W. Dudley and Shannon J. Goodson classify this group as the “Over-Preparer.” I find this even more widespread in the printing industry, although we don’t have good statistics.

I use a picture in my presentations to illustrate it. It shows actor John Lithgow dressed in both suspenders and a belt. Now, this illustrates that he’s playing a person with Analysis Paralysis or Over-Preparer tendencies.

Actually, these are sensitive people who are concerned about being swept away in emotions, so they lock themselves up inside and prepare for every conceivable condition before they initiate contact. Interactions with others are focused on information and facts; not feelings.

One owner who was making calls was having problems with results. His son went with him to one call and reported back to us that the female buyer proudly proclaimed, “My son has been accepted to West Point.” The father replied, “That’s interesting. Now about this project…”

In my opinion, the really amazing point of this story isn’t what the printer said, but that he got in front of a customer in the first place.

In short, those with Over-Preparer tendency in sales situations, spend an inordinate amount of time preparing what and how to say things rather than initiating contact. Eventually, when they get it right, they think they will begin initiating contacts, but they rarely get there.

Business owners with this profile will seem to their workers and customers cool, distant, and even aloof. They’re not. They just tend to be overly sensitive and don’t open up to allow people to know the real person.

Are You an Over-Preparer?

Here are some ways for you to test your own Over-Preparer tendencies:

  • Do you frequently censor yourself from saying what you really feel and how much you feel it? Over-Preparers tend to be painfully aware of this.
  • Do you think public displays of emotion are signs of weakness? OPs tend to be suspicious of people when too much emotion is expressed too soon.
  • Do you express a spontaneous sense of humor? OPs tend not to and sometimes feel it is inappropriate in people who do.
  • Would you find it difficult to touch the people you are talking with? OPs tend to find it socially inappropriate.
  • Do you hesitate to show excitement for new products or programs? OPs tend to be reserved and hard to impress.
  • Would you describe yourself as reflective or contemplative and slow to take action? Many OPs are.
  • Are you cynical about rapport building exercises in sales training? Most OPs are.
  • Do you find yourself most comfortable with computers, systems, and procedures? Yes, most OPs are more comfortable in these areas.

So what effect does it have on your business if you have toxic levels of Over-Preparer tendencies?

  • You tend to respond to infraction of rules by creating more rules. You hand out lists of things that people should not do and are surprised when they violate a rule you established last year. Workers find you cool, distant, aloof, and not easily approachable.
  • You complain to others about misdeeds of workers, but when probed, admit that you have never actually addressed the infraction with the workers in question.
  • You may not know much about the personal lives of the people who work for you. We found one owner who couldn’t tell us all of his workers’ last names. OPs often do not know the names of the wives and children of the people who work for them. This results in a business being pushed by the owner, not led. The owner is in the position of supply sergeant; watching as the team goes off to take the next hill, leaderless.
  • You tend not to initiate contact with strangers and don’t know that you have it in you to do so. As a result, you have little to do with an increase in sales and tend to blame decreases only on things such as the economy or other external factors.
  • You may insist that you are the only one who can price jobs. As a result, you are a constraint on your business’ growth.
  • You work hours on an estimate, trying to achieve the absolute lowest price for the customer. I found one owner, who marked up outside work by 50%, working for days to find a less expensive vendor. The net result was the owner spent more time in estimating, only to earn less money because of the way the job was priced. The percentage of jobs he won using this process didn’t change.
  • You tend to have a lot of paperwork within the business. Essentially, it is unneeded paperwork that you established to correct an error that occurred once. There may be a lot of filing required to operate your business. Usually the filing is behind. And you tend not to have a close connection with your customers. You often see yourself as a person who has established a business, and customers either come to you or they don’t. And finally, no one in your business is really initiating contact with prospective customers.

Take Action

If you see a lot of yourself in these lists, you may have a type of hesitancy to initiate contact based on this style.

What do you do about it? Well, again, we certainly have training specifically for this, but you can take steps yourself by gaining the understanding that the Over-Preparer approach does not produce better results. We would use coaching techniques to get an OP to be more comfortable with initiating contacts under less than perfect circumstances.

An example would be that an OP would typically gather exhaustive amounts of information and prepare an exhaustive script before they would initiate a contact when, in reality, all that is needed is a telephone number. Sure, having an appropriate amount of information is desirable, but it can be done without it. So, we would work with an OP on some exercises that would loosen up the perfectionist choke hold on initiating contacts.

We would do a similar thing with internal controls that have typically run amok. It certainly is something that a person can make progress with alone, however, we see much better results when a business owner has a coach in these areas.

Again, we say do be concerned with details, but be appropriately concerned. Over-Preparer tendencies taken to an extreme result in paralysis, and thus harm the business. Additionally, just reading and seeing yourself in this scenario doesn’t exactly make it so. Testing is available to see if your symptoms are at a toxic level or are impairing your performance.

Remember, just because you have these tendencies doesn’t mean they are impairing performance. Over 90% of us have one or more types of Analysis Paralysis, and nearly 25% of us have this specific type, so you will see yourself in this or one of the other profiles.

If this tendency is impairing your business, then you need to do something about it. If it is not impairing it, then you need to be aware of it so that it doesn’t harm your business in the future.

Tom Crouser is president of CPrint International, a program of Crouser & Associates, 4710 Chimney Drive, Charleston, WV 25302, 304/965-7100. Go to www.cprint.org and subscribe to CPrint Tips, a free management newsletter. Tom is now Twittering weekdays. Follow his tweets at www.twitter.com/tomcrouser. You may reach him at tom@cprint.org.

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