Sales managers frequently ask me, "How many accounts can I expect one salesperson to manage effectively?" I reply that it depends on the decade in which your salesperson operates.

Take Earl, a salesman operating with a 1980s mindset. He disagreed during a recent seminar in which I said text messaging, social media, and e-mail would become primary methods of communication.

"I told my teenage grandchildren that if you want to talk to me, it will be in person or on the phone," Earl declared. "If I won't talk to my own family that way, there is no way I will start talking to my customers with texts and e-mail." Earl manages fewer than 20 accounts with mediocre success and has few prospects on the horizon.

Then there's Peter, a salesman racing through the 1990s. Peter used to believe he had to meet his clients in person to be effective. He now uses the cell phone effectively between visits, but only recently did he purchase a handheld device to keep up with e-mails during the day. He also has begun using spreadsheets and customer relationship management software to track his prospecting activity and client contacts.

Now consider Andrew, a Sales Leader for a New England dealer. We met through LinkedIn, a social medium for business-to-business dialogue, and now" talk" as much by text and e-mail as by phone. Andrew keeps in touch with many of his clients that way, he tells me. I asked him for the number of contacts with whom he feels he maintains an ongoing dialogue. He thinks it is in the hundreds. More important, he says, his customers and prospects always have a way to get in touch with him. Instead of trying to be on the jobsite when a new project is coming up, his clients call him!

That trio's stories lead to three thoughts on why you might need to update your beliefs in, and use of, 21st Century technology:

1. Rethink "Touches" In 1980, the only ways to touch a client were in person or on the phone. Now you can create meaningful interactions by texting, e-mail, and social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and e-mail blasts. Every meaningful exchange of words, regardless of the medium, counts as a potentially valuable interaction in the 21st Century.

2. Talk in the Language Your Clients and Prospects Prefer I learned this by accident from a client who had solicited my services via e-mail. My instinct was to speak with him, so I called and left a message. He responded by e-mail. After another failed attempt to call,

I realized I better speak in his language. Without a single voice interaction, we put a deal together.

3. Start Using Social Media Even if You Don't Understand It I admit that I am hardly an expert on social media, which is exactly why you should heed this advice. I don't understand all the subtleties of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn; I haven't even tried. But somehow I have managed to accumulate hundreds of contacts, some of which have blossomed into profitable business opportunities. Don't wait until you understand social media. Just sign up and allow your knowledge to evolve.

Your success today depends on the technological decade in which you choose to operate. You do not get to choose your client's preferred method of communication, but must instead adapt. If you limit yourself to a 1980s style of operating, you will lose to salespeople who flourish using today's technology.

–Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., an LBM advisory firm specializing in sales management training. He is an international speaker and author of Strategic Sales in the Building Industry, a BuilderBook publication. 773.769.4409. E-mail: [email protected]