Two thirds of the way through the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, Bond decides the time has come to go old school. Enough with the technology. After being chased around the world and manipulated by a villainous computer genius, he takes his vintage Aston Martin out of the garage, retreats to his ancestral home in Scotland, and lures his enemy into an old-fashioned gun-fight.
Who in business doesn’t sometimes feel the same way? After an endless chain of emails, interminable teleconferences with disembodied heads appearing on screens from around the world, or fruitless hours scouring for customer information online, who doesn’t pine for a simpler world in which we communicate the old-fashioned way?
For all the ways technology simplifies our lives, it also over-complicates them.
Sales is a good example. You often hear nowadays that the old ways of selling are being replaced. That the availability of information online has made it more important for sellers to be transparent, to team up with their customers rather than to outwit them. All the magic of old-school salespeople is being replaced by talk of click-through rates and win-win partnerships.
The danger is that if you fall for all this, your business risks the fate of Bond’s latest foe, the dastardly Mr. Silva. Your faith in technology will eventually kill you. In sales as in spy craft, the old ways are often the best.
This is not an argument for fraudulence and chicanery. Such methods rarely sustain a lifelong career in sales. Good salespeople have always been good partners to their customers. They know that if their customers succeed, they will succeed. This is not a 21st century discovery.
But it is an argument for getting out from behind a screen and going to see people in person. For giving that LinkedIn “Connect” button a rest and stopping trolling the Internet for information.
The reason is that for salespeople, what exists online is not a source of competitive advantage, any more than it is for an investor. What matters is not what everyone knows — it’s what they don’t know. And such information rarely finds its way onto the Internet. It has to be gleaned the same way an investigative reporter gleans her information: Through interviews, contacts and favor-trading.
The greatest financial rewards in sales don’t accrue to people who grasp that anyone can now value their car or house online. They accrue to those who can provide something extra. The realtor who can introduce you to your new community when you buy a house. The car dealer who can deliver excellent trade-in value and ongoing service.
The farther you look up the business food chain, the less you see technology being used to sell, and the more you see businesses that continue to rely on personal sales and negotiation.
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