One of the best sales reps I've ever known would be unemployable at a lot of our companies today. I got to know Ellie (not her real name) a couple of decades ago, when I hired her to persuade people over the phone to spend today's equivalent of several thousand dollars a year for a weekly, mailed newsletter on the banking industry. She was brilliant at it.

But Ellie also was a fraud. It turned out she never wrote the letter that led to the interview that led to her employment and ultimately her stellar performance. Problem was, Ellie couldn't write.

Ellie finally confessed this to me when our corporate bosses in New York asked her to send up a memo regarding some minor issue. Those bosses liked her too, but were unaware that her spelling was so atrocious she barely tried to learn how to put her thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. On the other hand, Ellie spoke so well--that's how she built her career, after all--that I could just set her down next to me, ask the bosses' question, and transcribe her spoken responses into crisp memos with hardly any editing. For all New York knew when they got those memos, Ellie was the total package.

Had she grown up today, odds are Ellie would have been diagnosed early on as having dyslexia or some related learning disability. Chances are good she would have gotten help finding ways to work around her condition. But Ellie didn't have those opportunities. And I suspect the same is true for others in her baby boom generation, including a number of LBM employees. I think they found in our low-tech, relationship-based business a haven from having to pull up a keyboard and write memos.

And now comes CRM--customer relationship management software--and modern times' emphasis on texting, email, and recording notes into systems that everyone in the company can read. These are chores that don't come naturally to a huge swath of Americans with limited reading and spelling skills. If you came to view an LBM sales job as a way to compensate for the hidden handicap of dyslexia, hearing about the arrival of CRM must sound like a death knell.

I can't say for certain that LBM proportionately has more folks like Ellie in its ranks than do other industries. It's  probable that much of the opposition put up by sales reps and others against implementing CRM stems from other reasons, such as dislike of the notion that the lumberyard, not the sales rep,  owns the customer. But this gut feeling persists. Perhaps it's because my mother and sister, as well as a niece and an uncle, all found their lives circumscribed by the condition. Some of my first writing came when mom had me, not her, write the notes to our teachers when we needed to be excused from school.

People prefer videos to reading, we often are told. That probably is true. It's also true that lots of dyslexics go on to have fabulous careers because they've learned to compensate for their troubles reading and spelling. For these people, there may be a special, unspoken reason for preferring something other than a memo--or a CRM system--to do your job. 

Think of that the next time you hear a staff member balk. It might spark a conversation.

Here's one good source to start learning about dyslexia: