In my September column, I illustrated the impact the technological revolution has had on business communication and, in particular, the careers of salespeople. This month I'll describe opportunities the technological revolution presents for those intent on improving their sales careers.
Personal computers enable salespeople to manage information incredibly efficiently through database systems, spreadsheets, word processors, and personal digital assistants (PDAs). But an astounding number of salespeople have yet to adopt these technologies. That is an error in judgment that puts their careers in jeopardy.
I am reminded of the cartoon in which a warrior is at the front of his tent fighting a battle with bows and arrows. His assistant is trying to draw his attention to the salesman at the back of the tent, to which the warrior responds, “I have no time for a salesman! I'm in the heat of battle.” The salesman was attempting to sell a rapid-fire Gatling gun.
When I ask salespeople why they haven't learned to employ computer technology, the answers invariably are weak. The reality is that, these days, the salesperson who brings a pen and paper to the battle is as naive as the fighter who brings a knife to a gunfight.
Hard Times As I prepared for a recent presentation, it struck me that most of the salespeople have never had to endure a serious slowdown in our industry or, for that matter, the economy at large. Salespeople have been able to simply service customers reactively and enjoy constant economic growth. This fact, coupled with constant material price increases, has enabled salespeople to enjoy lucrative times without having to upgrade their sales skills.
But these days, success and survival are about speed and the ability to adapt on the move. Every day, the cheetah, one of the fastest animals on earth, arises to hunt its prey. Success comes to the fastest cheetah and its victim will be the slowest zebra in the herd. It is no different for salespeople.
Consider the management of database information. There are a number of software options—Act, Goldmine, Microsoft Outlook, and salesforce.com, to name a few—that enable salespeople to manage immense amounts of information at the touch of a button. Yet rather than employ these technologies, many salespeople still adhere to ancient methods of information management, such as the ever-popular stack of business cards wrapped in a rubber band.
If you have ever found yourself looking feverishly for a misplaced phone number or regretting your inability to locate an important contact, then you probably realize the importance of organizing information more effectively. But if you need another example, consider two salespeople who have a lull between scheduled appointments and realize simultaneously that in the slowing economy—much like the dry season in the wild—every opportunity for a new customer must be explored. The slow salesman starts going through his rubber-band database in search of the opportunity to create instant productivity. Meanwhile, the other salesman simply opens his electronic database, sorts his territory by ZIP code, and discovers three prospects in the area.