The technological revolution has changed the profession of selling in dramatic ways. While this hardly comes as a surprise to anyone, many of us have still failed to adapt to the challenges created by the technological revolution. In one generation of salespeople, the methods we use to communicate with customers have evolved so rapidly that many salespeople simply have not recognized that the profession has been impacted forever.
Twenty-five years ago, business was much simpler; salespeople typically filled out order forms that were mailed or delivered directly to the office. With the advent of a fax machine, people began sending orders in over the telephone wires, even if they were sometimes difficult to read when a roll of paper converted a multiple page order into a one-sheet communiqué. Soon, plain paper faxes solved this problem but were quickly replaced for many with the innovation of electronic data transfer, the method by which orders are placed directly into a vendor's computer system.
These methods pale in comparison to the recent arrival of even more instantaneous communication tools that allow individuals to call orders in from jobsites directly over their cell phones. Additionally, PDA devices such as BlackBerries or Palm Pilots enable e-mail communications from remote locations.
Certainly, all these new tools have made our jobs and lives easier. But they also have made them more complicated. Ironically, while these evolving technologies have streamlined processes, they also have made business life much more complex than anyone would have imagined because none has rendered another obsolete. Orders often are still placed in handwritten form. They are also submitted by fax, by phone, through e-mail, via electronic data transfer, and from handheld PDA devices, and will soon be submitted from computers that are linked to global tracking devices.
Many salespeople clearly have failed to adapt with the pace of change. For example, there are those that are still uncomfortable using e-mail. One sales representative I know at a large organization failed to check his e-mail for three months because he did not like computers; the result was a lost customer and several bid opportunities (implying that perhaps his employer should have left the e-mail address off his business card until they knew he was actually using it).
More significant evidence is provided by the costly failure of salespeople to provide adequate contact information on their business cards. Of the many business cards I have seen in the past year, a large percentage do not have complete contact information, with many omitting e-mail addresses and thus eliminating one method by which customers can communicate. Limited information means limited access, hardly the message a salesperson wants to project, and it essentially states to the customer or prospect, “If you want to do business with me, this is how I wish to be contacted.” And this is the crux of the matter: Salespeople should not expect to tell customers how to do business, but should instead be prepared to adapt to a client's preferred method of communication.