While I am not romantic about the past, there are several things I miss about the old days of selling. Generally, things were much simpler, and the experience was better. These are a few of the things that make me nostalgic.
- The index-card CRM: On my desk, I had a stack of index cards, each with a contact’s name, phone number, and company name. Every Monday morning, I called every contact, scribbling out a short code to record the outcome of the call. It was fast and easy. Not too much later, I adopted a CRM.
- The sales floor: There isn’t anything better than a bunch of salespeople working in close quarters. The sales floor had a certain energy that was electric. You would find two types of sales reps on the sales floor. The first rep would search for a quiet place to talk to a contact, hiding from their peers who might listen in on the call. The second salesperson would stand up and broadcast their conversation to the rest of the sales force. This is still one of the best ways to develop a sales team, something you cannot get working from home.
- The field: I left my office to visit prospective clients and current clients. More meetings meant more time in the field, talking with buyers and decision-makers. The difference between that time and today is that we were like feral cats, roaming around outside. Today salespeople are house cats staring at screens, with some people certainly looking at cats on Instagram instead of embodying that free-ranging spirit.
- “Let’s do lunch”: Especially in Los Angeles, where I worked for a $4 billion staffing company, it was customary to “do lunch.” Taking a prospecting to lunch was practically a stage in the B2B sales process.
- The expense account: The expense account was the source of the money for all those lunches. It also funded the copies of the contract your client would sign and the proposals you printed.
- Business cards: You never want to put anything on the back of your business card. That space was used to jot down notes about the person you met. If you were active in the field, you would have hundreds of business cards. Those who ended up with many cards would buy a leather binder and organize them alphabetically. Today, the business card is an email you search for when you need the contact’s information.
- More time: It was easier to get time with your clients and contacts. Things were slower than they are now in our ultra-frenetic environment. You had more time to build rapport and develop strong relationships, which was essential to winning and retaining clients. Today’s Zoom meetings are shorter and shallower than face-to-face sales calls.
- The decision-maker: Once upon a time, there was a decision-maker, often a senior leader. This person was responsible for buying whatever their company needed. A meeting with this person was all that was necessary to create and win a deal. Occasionally, the decision-maker would invite another person to join the meeting, but the decision-maker was the single person you needed to win a deal. Today’s buying decisions are often made by committees, so salespeople need to build consensus among any number of stakeholders. This process is more complicated, slower, and more difficult to manage.
- Carrying back the ink: It took a long time for digital signatures to become reality. I miss sitting down across from a contact and signing a contract. There was a ritual to it that was satisfying. Both people would be seated across the desk from each other, and would go through the contract. When the signing event was over, the salesperson would take the contract back to their office to hand it off to the sales leader. I am sad for those who have never actually watched their client sign a contract in person.
- The pager: At one point in time, everyone had a pager. When you left your office to go into the field, the only way someone could contact you was with a pager. Yes, you looked like a drug dealer running around with a small device on your belt. The pager could send and receive only short messages, and wasn’t nearly as needy as your smartphone. Maybe you haven’t noticed how demanding your smartphone is. It requires you to pick it up every three minutes. I’ve had children that needed less attention than our phones.
- Touring the client’s office or facility: One way to learn how businesses work is to walk around while the people who do the work explain what they do and how. This is a type of education missing, depriving salespeople of a certain type of business acumen.
- Long relationships: In the past, it was common to have relationships that lasted for decades. Today, your contacts regularly move from one company to the next, making for shorter relationships. This contributes to the sense that everything is transactional.
- Non-transactional interactions: Today, everything feels like transactional selling. From automated cold outreach to the transactional nature of most sales organizations and their prospects and clients. Everything is fast and ephemeral. There is too much communication, too little caring, and even less substance.
This meditation is my way of thinking about what we have given up and what we have received in return. When everything is rooted in technology and convenience, it’s important to figure out how to get closer to our clients and prospective clients. Efficiency should not dominate everything we do and, most importantly, it shouldn’t be allowed to change who we are and how we interact with other people. This challenge is at the forefront of B2B selling in the 21st century.
In a lot of scenarios, selling is competitive. Winning that competition means doing something that creates a preference to buy from you. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you are a commodity. The things I miss about selling are the things that helped individuals build real relationships and stand out from the competition.