David Harris, president of Harris Group, in Kingsport, Tenn., has been adventurous about technology since high tech meant calculators and overhead projectors. Each of the 11 people in his $600,000 insurance and financial-services firm carries a laptop.

Harris is a 38-year veteran who is careful to keep his computer investments focused on the top and bottom lines. "We're operating with probably one-sixth the staff we had before," he says. By cutting paperwork and allowing salespeople to run through complex financial scenarios more quickly, use of the laptops "has improved our bottom line by probably 20% to 30%." Besides being more efficient, the computers' ability to do real-time analysis gives Harris's people added credibility.

With all that information at their fingertips, the greatest problem is keeping it simple. "You have to train your people not to put out more than the client can absorb at one time," says Harris. In other words, no 100-page reports when two or three pages will do.

What's more, it galls Harris to "see some guy trying to draw boxes for two days" instead of selling. So his salespeople use standard formats for reports and presentations. The aim: "To keep salespeople focused on their primary job, which is to sell."