Will the Internet cause
the death of the outside salesperson?
Pick up any trade journal
or sales and marketing publication these days and chances are you'll run into
some comments addressing that question. I rarely teach a seminar without that
question popping up somewhere in the course of the day. Almost every sales manager,
executive and sales person I know has pondered it recently.
So what's the answer? Like
most others, I have to admit that I don't know. It is certainly possible that
some aspects of today's outside sales jobs will be replaced by point-and-click.
But the answer to the big question remains unclear and a ways into the future.
I am sure of one thing,
however. The Internet, specifically, and computers in general can be powerful
tools in the hands of a capable salesperson, and those salespeople who take
the initiative to become automation-enabled will find themselves growing in
importance to their customers and in value to their companies. Rather then wait
fearfully for an answer to appear, the wisest course for the professional salesperson
is to proactively make computerization work for him or her.
We all understand that computer
technology, particularly the on-line segment, is moving so rapidly that parts
of this article my be obsolete by the time it is printed. Keeping that perspective
in mind, here are some ways that an Internet-enabled, computer-savvy outside
salesperson can use this technology to excel.
How salespeople can use
1. Qualify new prospects.
Just because you have the name of new prospect doesn't mean that it's worth
your time to call on that prospect. Why not use the Internet to qualify your
prospects before you spend time trying to see them? Let's say you've developed
a list of 25 new prospects in your territory, one of which is XYZ tool and die
shop. Do a search for that XYZ tool and die through the search engines and see
You may discover a website
with a wealth of information about the prospect. It wouldn't be unusual to find
out the names and titles of the key people, the key product lines or customers
they serve, the mission or vision statement of the company, etc.
You may also find the company
mentioned in a number of other ways. For example, you may find them mentioned
in a press release by an association to which they belong. They may be a new
member, or have been mentioned in an article in a trade journal, or listed as
a customer by another vendor. The possibilities are endless. Every piece of
information can be useful to you in determining whether or not to call on them,
and, if so, how to approach them. And all that information may be available
over the Internet.
2. Email. This is
clearly one of the greatest advantages to the Internet. Think of how many hours
per week you spend on the phone with all the people in your own company. Now
add the hours spent on the phone with customers, or more accurately, trying
to reach customers. Suppose you could dramatically reduce that time by using
email to communicate with your support people and your manager. And now, suppose
that you could virtually eliminate voice mail frustrations by communicating
via email to your customers. You could transform dozens of hours each week that
are currently spent in frustrating and tedious tasks into productive sales time.
You could even go beyond
using email for personal communications. It can also be a sales tool. Collect
the email addresses of those customers who agree to this, and then use mass
email as a sales tool. Here's an example. Let's say you have 100 customers,
and it takes two months to see all of them. You have a hot new product to tell
all of them about. Why not mass email the information overnight, and then visit
first those who first expressed interest in it? You could dramatically reduce
the time it takes to turn that new product into sales dollars.
3. Contact management.
Contact management software has been around so long, the benefits so clearly
established, and is so commonly used that I hesitate to even mention it. However,
it's my personal experience that even today at least 50% of the sales forces
with which I have contact are not automated. There is no longer any excuse for
this. You need to be using a laptop with a contact manager program to collect
and record information about customers, to record contacts and conversations,
to create schedules and to do lists, to file quotes and record sales information.
One of the characteristics of the turn-of-the-century marketplace is the rapid
increase in the amount of information a salesperson must handle. Using a computer
to assist in the organization and processing of information is no longer optional.
If you're not using a laptop daily in this manner, shame on you. You are behind.
The initial cost is no longer
an obstacle, as several Internet-based programs have been introduced recently
which allow you to use contact-management software via the Internet on a monthly-rental
4. Presentations. The
computer-enabled salesperson uses a laptop with presentation or video programs
to present a new product or service to the customer. Using these tools means
that you can prepare a colorful, animated, talking presentation, and view it
together with your customer. That allows you to make sure you get all the important
details into the presentation, and present the product as positively as possible.
Taking time to create a presentation in a stress free environment of your home
or office ensures a far higher quality in the presentation than if you attempt
to adlib as you go in front of the customer.
Store your supplemental
paper-based literature on the computer, and print sell sheets with a portable
printer on an as-needed basis. Watch all the clutter in the back seat of your
You can take this concept
to a deeper level. Your company's marketing department, for example, can create
the product presentations and make them available for all the salespeople via
CD ROMs, downloads over the web, or internal networks.
Manufacturers can do the
same for their distributors. Instead of relying completely on a salesperson
visiting and training your distributor salesforce on new products and promotions,
why not create those product presentations and make them available to automation-enabled
distributor salespeople over the Internet?
5. Become the customer's
search engine. There's no doubt that the amount of information available
on the web in growing exponentially. It takes time to search through it all
to find answers to the questions you, and your customers, have. Yet all of your
customers are suffering today with more to do and less time to do it than ever
before. Time is the most precious commodity of the Information age.
The person who can find
information on the Internet for someone else, and thereby save him or her time,
is of great value. I routinely pay people to search the web for information
that I want. I don't have the time to do it myself, and it's a service that
is of value to me. You can serve that function for your customers, becoming
the trusted source of applied information.
Learn to use the Internet
to research product applications, competitive products, the competition, technical
details, and whatever other questions tempt you or intrigue your customer. One
way to prevent your customers from using the Internet to replace you is to preempt
the process. Build your Internet skills to the point where your customers come
to rely on you as a trusted source of important information, and you'll become
irreplaceable to them.
6. Share your success.
We've only just scratched the surface of the ways in which an automation-enabled
outside salesperson can use computerization to become more effective. There
are probably thousands of specific things you can do more effectively via computerization.
You may have some powerful and unique applications yourself.
Here's an invitation to
share your techniques with other salespeople. If you have a technique you'd
like to share, visit Kahles Korner, a bulletin board for salespeople,
and submit your idea.
Use your browser to open
this page: www.davekahle.com,
and click on the button For "Salespersons Members Board." When prompted
for a username, type "slspeople," then use "sales" as a password.
Post your idea, or review the ideas of others. To entice you, we'll send a free
copy of my new book, I, to three salespeople every month in the year 2000 who
submit the best ideas that month.
You can no longer afford
to be computer or Internet ignorant if you expect to prosper as a salesperson
in the 21st Century. The time to make proactive moves to become automation-enabled