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Take the Industrial Sales Person’s Technology Test

by Frank Hurtte

Frank HurtteWhen I set out to write this section on technology self-evaluation, my assistant suggested I review and update an article written some time ago. I took a look at it, made some minor changes, and submitted it back to her for upload. Her emailed response took me by surprise. She flat out “refused” to post it, risking what she felt was insubordination. In fact, she felt the relevance of the piece fit more with 2010 rather than 2012. I do pay her to help me look good, so I was glad she didn’t post it.

Let’s think back to a time when your rolodex was your best friend. When quotes took days or even weeks to put together and send to a client. When being on the road, away from your desk phone, meant singing along with the radio rather than returning phone calls. Think about the trunk load (and backseat load) of catalogs that were a permanent fixture in your vehicle? Any time we wanted to go somewhere as a family, we had to use my wife’s car because mine was too full of dusty, heavy catalogs. My assistant talks of a time when she and her mom would sort her father’s invoices at the end of the year. It took all weekend and every surface of the living room.

Things were simpler then, but not easier. And now with technology exploding at every turn, we are bombarded with new ideas on how to make our lives better now. Really, we’re just made to think that we should be able to get a lot more done in a given day than ever before. Any stoplight is for checking our voicemail. Our drive time is for returning phone calls. A quick lunch is now a full on work session with reading email, syncing calendars, and catching up with social media. By the time our day is over, we’re exhausted. Yet, many of us keep our phones turned on and continue to receive and check messages in to the evening. Instant access to information is the key to being the best in the business. There is little room for patience anymore.

The trouble with technology is by the time we report that something is wonderful, a newer, better version is released. By the time we learn a new software version or design program, it’s obsolete in some markets. We always hear how we live in a disposable society, but this type of thing costs companies a lot of money. How can you keep up with the times without personally going bankrupt? We’re mostly referring to individual sales people, not corporate inventory or payroll systems. How can the “little guy” maintain all of his information without jumping on the first release of all new products? Do we absolutely need all of these latest gadgets to stay on top?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes…to a point. There is much you can do with just a cell phone, an email account, and a pad of paper. But the inherent sales person in you can only rise above so far on this alone.

Once again, we’re using a 1-10 scoring system:

Give yourself a 1 if:

  • You have a cell phone and work email account which you check on a regular basis.
  • You use the internet to research new customers and products when you’re in the office
  • You regularly review and return email within 24 hours.

Give yourself a 3 if:

  • Your cell phone has your key customer’s phone numbers programmed and you regularly use speed dial. Your voicemail states how long a customer will wait for a return call.
  • You confirm appointments 20-30 minutes prior to visiting a customer.
  • You create PowerPoint presentations and print them for a client.
  • You use an online calendar or your phone’s calendar function to have easy access to your schedule.
  • You use a few select client web applications to research parts and build projects.
  • You participate in conference calls by phone.

Give yourself a 5 if:

  • You carry a smart phone which allows you to check voicemail as well as email from the road.
  • You return most phone calls by the end of the business day.
  • You use the camera function to document any troubles on site or to help you research a product.
  • You input new contacts in your phone and your email program immediately.
  • You use email distribution lists to get out important information for your clients.
  • You use social media and RSS type feeds to keep up with trends in the industry and stay up to date on new products.
  • You are able to use and present a PowerPoint presentation with your laptop onsite.

Give yourself a 7 if:

  • You carry an electronic tablet to meetings for note taking and photo sharing.
  • You actively set up and participate in webinars or live video chats with clients
  • If your company uses a program like Constant Contact, you actively provide client info to keep them apprised of company news and events. These contacts are grouped to provide only pertinent information to each segment.
  • You are able to use your phone or tablet’s Bluetooth technology to instantly share contact info, photos, emails, and other files.
  • You use the voice recorder to keep important notes.

Give yourself a 10 if:

  • You are never on a sales call without your tablet. All presentations are loaded in it, including photos, links, schematics, charts, graphs, etc.
  • You use your tablet’s Bluetooth function to give presentations.
  • You have catalog apps loaded from different vendors to build projects on demand and have up to the minute pricing and availability. Some clients have limited web access and can’t get a complete pricing picture.
  • Your calendar is shared with other staff members to coordinate schedules and to allow for appointments without multiple phone calls. You have it set to remind you and the other party, via text or email, when you have an appointment.
  • You use a “cloud” to have access to all types of files anywhere at any time.

Extra Credit: For those of you who truly go above and beyond (and likely rarely vacation to balance your work life), you get extra credit if you have a portable printer in your car to print invoices and schematics while on site.

So while it is not necessary to have a tablet and smartphone, it sure helps make you a shining star in your client’s eyes!

I developed a similar list in 2005, 2007, and 2010. For instance, back in 2005, I recommended every sales person acquire a cell phone- even if they had to pay for it out of their own pocket. Just 7 years later, it sounds silly to even suggest it. If you aren’t operating at a level 5, you may be obsolete in 2014. Don’t be.

Frank Hurtte, founder of River Heights Consulting,  brings 28 years of distribution industry experience  and a lifetime in sales. Reach him at (563) 514-1104  or

Sales Tech Test
Posted from: Kay, 7/12/12 at 7:12 PM CDT
Fantastic article and very timely. I have been thinking the same things for several years. I am happy to say I am on target with most practices but need to brush up my PowerPoint. I also get regular ISM e-mails like this that keep me very well informed and ahead of the
game on the street. I would keep your assistant actively engaged. Thanks so much to both of you.

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