As communication systems evolve, so must you. Think of life 20 years ago: Cell phones were rare compared to pagers, which sales people used as prompts to locate a (now obsolete) pay phone. Fax machines spit our illegible rolls of paper. The Internet was just blossoming. Text messaging wasn't even on the radar.
Today, all of these tools are essential components to business success, and you do not get to choose the method with which you want to communicate. Instead, you must adapt to your customers' preferred methods. Ask them what they desire. The benefits may surprise you.
Ryan, the young owner of a highly successful plumbing products supplier in New England, told me that his strongest relationships are with two customers with whom he regularly exchanges text messages. He also requires his salespeople to communicate with him via text messaging.
A sales representative for a central Plains window dealer sold his first project to Jeff, a builder, without a single physical meeting. Instead, they built their relationship via e-mail exchanges. At the same time, that sales rep has another client, Ted, who not only doesn't text message but doesn't even have an e-mail address.
It's no coincidence that these three men differ in age as well as in preferred communication method. Ryan is part of generation Y, or a millennial, people born between 1977 and 1998, the elders of which are entering the workforce or have a few years' work experience. Jeff is part of generation X, those born between 1965 and 1976 who followed baby boomers into the workforce and adapted to changing technology. Ted is a baby boomer, born 1946 to 1964. Here's a closer look at the three groups:
Millennials. This group is now entering the workforce, and many are becoming the entrepreneurs who will change our industry. Millennials were born in a time that presumes the use of technological communication. Be prepared for innovative methods of communication with this group, including e-mail, text, and computer chat.
Generation X. Like the millennials, this group uses technology, but it also enjoys older ways of communicating. Thus, Gen Xers will want to communicate in the most diverse number of ways: physical meetings, phone, e-mail, and text. And they think independently.
Baby boomers. You know all about baby boomers, and probably know that many of them prefer traditional forms of communication: physical meetings and phone calls. E-mails support their communications efforts, but you typically don't see them text messaging, at least not to business clients.
As you employ communication technologies, notice how each medium has different strengths. Text messaging can be very effective at getting attention quickly and conveying brief messages. E-mail affords you the opportunity, unlike face-to-face meetings, of carefully choosing your words and letting your clients respond at their convenience.
For some of you, this might be a tough adjustment. Perhaps more than you realize, your sales success has been based on in-person meetings during which you could see expressions and hear vocal nuances that helped you calibrate your message. You'll still need those skills, but your future success also will hinge on your ability to master each mode of technology appropriately based on your clients' and prospects' preferred communications medium.
There are no hard and fast rules. Many younger business people prefer physical and phone dialogue, and many older folks, unlike their contemporaries, are adapting to the technology revolution. You can improve your communication instantly by adjusting to each client's preference. And rather than try to guess what each client wants, just ask. You have heard the old saying that it's not what you say, it's how you say it. In this multimedia environment, truer words have never been spoken–or texted.