According to Mike Song, former pharmaceutical sales rep and author of the book “The Hamster Revolution,” pharmaceutical companies can cut the time that sales reps spend receiving, reading, and responding to e-mail by 20%. Since sales reps may spend up to 88 eight-hour working days per year on e-mail tasks (21,120 msgs X 2 minutes per msg = 88 hours), that means 18 days per year per sales rep are wasted.

Song made this claim at the eyeforpharma Sales Force Effectiveness USA 2009 conference, which I attended yesterday. He also gave out free copies of his book.

Presenting along with Song was Schering-Plough’s Director of Learning and Development whose company benefited from Song’s tips that he summarized in a presentation entitled “Get Control of Email! Driving Sales Force Effectiveness with Email Productivity Training.”

Here are some of Song’s tips:

  • Do not automatically click on “reply to all.” The list may grow exponentially as other people add to it. (Song cited a survey in which 91% of respondents say that their colleagues often overuse “reply to all.” Yeah, but I do not do that!)
  • Use NRN (“No Reply Needed”) or NTN (“No Thanks Needed”) in subject line. (87% of respondents to that survey previously mentioned say they often receive unnecessary e-mail. And 25% actually resent being thanked!)
  • Use action words in subject line. These include “Info,” “Request,” “Confirmed,” and “delivery.”
  • If the subject line IS the message, place “EOM” (End of Message) at the end so that the receiver doesn’t waste time by opening up the email.
  • Apply the “newspaper test.” “E-mail is a public medium,” warned Song. You can be sure there is a copy stored somewhere that has not been erased. So, be careful what you say.
  • Strengthen the subject line, sculpt the body. You’ll have to read the book or listen to my podcast interview, which I plan for the near future, to learn more.

Best piece of advice: Use a phone. In that survey, 80% of respondents said they or their colleagues often use email when the phone would be better.

Usually, all kinds of expensive and difficult to implement technology “solutions” to the “problem” of sales force effectiveness are promoted at SFE meetings. Song’s solution was refreshingly non-technical and a no-brainer. Despite that — or maybe because of it — Song had the most people surrounding his “non-booth” (a round-top table in the farthest corner of the exhibit area; no sign, no fancy brochures; just a few books) trying to talk to him.

The next time-wasting technology sales reps may have to deal with is Twitter! Also social media sites like Cafe Pharma.