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Posted July 2, 2013

Independence, Freedom and Adios Autonomy

by Frank Hurtte

Frank HurtteIt’s Fourth of July Week in the United States. Independence Day, America Day and the Fourth of July are all names marking American Freedom. The distant beat of John Philip Souza patriotic melodies mingle with the steel gray smoke of fireworks in the distance. Folks, kids and cousins gather at the local park, braving the summer heat, grass stains and mosquitoes.

To steal a phrase from my pal, Tom; “That’s the way we roll in America. We’re celebrating freedom and, if you don’t like it, tough.” Under this great backdrop of freedom, independence and liberty, I would like to raise a discussion.

Electronic Privacy in the Sales Department
The word is out. The government has accessed the phone records and electronic data of all of us. Deep within some top-secret vault in a non-descript suburb of Washington D.C., they have our text messages, our e-mails, and other goodies. They know precisely how much time you spend reading this blog (pretty scary, huh?). Along with this information, they have your location coordinates. If you’re sporting a fancy phone with GPS built in, they know your location to within 15 feet on the vertical and horizontal axis.

Simply stated, some analyst at the National Security Agency in Washington, D.C. knows if you are making sales calls or hacking the ball around the back nine.

Nope, I’m not spouting the latest conspiracy theory. For the record, I haven’t seen any jet-black helicopters hovering over the River Heights cottage. I believe the hummingbird I saw yesterday was real and not an NSA drone learning about channel issues.

I do believe we are entering a new world of data combinations. And the Fourth of July, a day marking freedom and independence, is an especially good time to broach the subject.

How much freedom does a salesperson deserve?
A few days ago, a Midwestern distributor asked me to be part of a sales force evaluation process. As we worked our way around the conference table, it appeared each sales manager had a couple of sellers with questionable numbers. What’s worse, the reporting tools available (call reports and opportunity/funnel reports) made their managers wonder just how hard the salespeople in question were working.

The conversation took a turn. The vice president of sales quacked, “We should put a GPS on their cars. I’d bet you J.R. (name changed to protect the guilty) doesn’t make four calls a week. One of my friends lives in his neighborhood and sees him playing tennis every morning at 9:00.”

One of the younger managers commented that cell phones have tracking capability built in, just in case anyone was serious about using it. I think the group was ready to pounce on the idea. Fortunately for J.R, they decided some of the sellers owned their own phones and turning on tracking required settings on the phone. And, maybe they needed to think about a policy before they ran down that particular path.

A few facts on GPS tracking
According to at least one supplier of GPS trackers for corporate fleets, the average fleet client sees a 20% improvement in gas mileage when monitors are added to vehicles. They chalk this up to better driving and less idling time. Vehicle maintenance goes down. And accidents see a similar decrease.

From a purely theoretical standpoint, the GPS system would give managers some interesting data.

  1. Managers can set a GPS monitoring system to automatically generate an e-mail when a salesperson’s vehicle/phone or other device leaves a “normal territory.” This is pretty handy for monitoring those summertime trips to the beach during selling hours.
  2. Managers can set the system to receive a report of places the car/phone or other device stops along the way. This might be translated into sales calls, activity reports or stops at the local golf club.
  3. Data on start time and office time is very easy to follow.

With an increasing number of untested salespeople working from home offices, sales managers are asking themselves the question, “The clock is striking 3:00. Do you know where your salespeople are?”

Spy in the Sky
To many, the GPS/electronic tracking stuff smacks of an Orwellian Big Brother. This runs counter to the sales stereotype of the “Lone Ranger" salesperson.

Stoic, independent and free, the Lone Ranger roams his/her territory fighting for truth, justice and the American way. In this group’s mind, any management ends at the edge of the parking lot. They follow their own process, doing exactly as they please and justifying their actions on myths of the past.

Putting an electronic monitor on the sales team sounds a lot like ripping the mask off the Lone Ranger.

Reason, Common Sense and Civil Discourse
Quite honestly, I can convince myself to go either way on this topic. For the last several days, I’ve felt like I had an angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other. Here’s what they’ve been whispering in my ear.

Angel: Assume positive intent Frank; most sales guys are hard-working, honest and loyal to their companies. How would they feel if suddenly their managers decided to spy on them?
Devil: Frank, don’t be a sap. If the salesperson isn’t doing anything wrong, why would they care if the boss knew precisely where they were at any given time?
Angel: Being a salesperson requires lots of flexibility; sometimes sellers start late, sometimes they work into the wee hours of the night. Most put in long hours in a super stressful environment. Do they need the stress of explaining every second of every day?
Devil: Frank, you’ve got to be kidding me. The hard-working guys work hard constantly. Every move they make is to generate business. The slackers talk big stories but you know they’re goofing off.
Angel: This whole thing raises massive questions about workplace privacy. What if a salesperson has to stop during the day for personal reasons? Should they be required to explain deeply private matters with their boss just because he knows they stopped off during the day?
Devil: You’ve got to be kidding me – right? Everybody else in the office has to ask for personal time and those “prima donnas” in the outside sales group can just buzz around town like they own the company. What makes them so special?

OK, you get the idea. This could be controversial. I am still making my mind up on the potential of electronic monitoring. What say you?

Frank Hurtte speaks, writes and consults with distributors on methods for adding bucks to their bottom line. Frank is available or via phone at (563) 514-1104. Click here to read Frank's blog.


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