In sales, top performers are often recognized for their ability to build tight, personal connections with customers. So, when it comes to remembering all the little details that can make a big impression, experts say technology can be an invaluable asset.

"Salespeople work from their cars, coffee shops and client locations, so it's important to have tools that help us access and update important information on the fly," says Priscilla Koeckeritz, president of Attune, a Minneapolis business development consulting firm.

In general, technological tools for sales professionals include the omnipresent cell phones and portable digital assistants, which offer web access, messaging and synchronization with a remote personal computer. Some companies provide their salespeople with access to sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) applications that allow more detailed tracking and analysis of client contacts.

While today's sales technologies offer impressive benefits, Koeckeritz offers three quick tips to maxi- mize their effectiveness:

Customize The Tools. Most hand-held or desktop sales tools have functions that frequently go unused. With that in mind, Koeckeritz suggests that sales pros invest some time to learn the capabilities of their systems, tailoring dashboards, task reminders and other applications to match their specific needs.

Update Frequently. Simply put, brilliant sales techno-logies will not compensate for bad or delayed data entry. Salespeople who take notes on client and prospect meetings have the most to gain from PDA or CRM tools, provided that they routinely enter new information into the system. "A lot of salespeople are great at talking and horrid at tracking," says Koeckeritz. "Technology can be a lifesaver if used correctly. If not, it actually will create more gaps and headaches."

Don't mistake convenience for effectiveness. Clearly, e-mail is a quick, easy way to connect with clients or prospects. But there are times when salespeople can become overly reliant on that approach. To head off that potential mistake, Koeckeritz says salespeople should ask their customers to define their contact preferences and timelines.

"By asking this question up front, you can find out when a buyer prefers phone, e-mail or face-to-face contact," says Koeckeritz. "That allows you to communicate in the buyer's preferred fashion - not in your preferred fashion."

Brett Pyrtle is a writer and communications consultant based in St. Paul.