For the times they are a-changin

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Times are changing.  Bob Dylan prophesied this message in 1964. Probably change was something extraordinary those days characterized by conservatism. Nevertheless, still today we tend to do what we always have done. However changes are coming more rapidly, very much technology driven. Those changes do have their impact on the way we interact with each other. This is also noticeable in the way we do business.

Until about 10 years ago sales interactions were performed by outside sales representatives. Each day the sales rep was on the road and regularly called at a customer or a prospect. Sales conversations were made. Coffee was hot, buyer and salesman took their time. These moments of personal direct contact, these face to face conversations between people sitting at one table were very important. So good salesmen knew their customers; they did not only know the buyer but also other staff members within the customer’s organisation. They exchanged information to a mutual benefit.
Occasionally I recall those days.

Frequently I travelled with Cees to see customers. Cees was our Sales Manager Benelux. I was responsible for one of the labelstock productgroups. Cees was a bit reluctant to have the 'young guys' from the head office to see his customers. One had to be suitable to visit his customers, according to Cees. It took a while before I was allowed to give presentations. It took a bit longer before Cees asked me to join when there were issues to be solved. Occasionally Cees asked me to assist when calling at prospects. As Cees knew every single label printer, he frequently visited the ones he liked. But sometimes he called at those he disliked but did have opportunities to be served.
I enjoyed talking directly with customers, asking for what they required and what they needed. And why they needed it. I loved to talk with the operators in the print shops, to make presentations about products choices and recyclability of plastics.
I travelled throughout the whole of Europe, We had some 13 European sales companies. Together with sales colleagues, like Francis in France, Peter and Tony in England, Jürgen and Achim in Germany, I frequently visited direct customers, prospects and end-users, the customers of our customers.
In those days physical calls were a valuable necessity.

Today we don’t need to see our customers that much. Also prospecting is different. Simply because the intensity of road traffic simply makes it impossible to schedule the number of visits. Above all salespeople are less welcome. Today all buyers do have access to information, so the sales rep is no longer required to present all kinds of information as often as before.

This implicates that with the smaller number of calls we have to optimise each call. And that requires much more attention to our preparation. A quality preparation by both the buyer as well as the sales rep makes that much time is invested prior to the meeting. Buyers do look for details about the (potential) suppliers. Sales reps should find everything they need to know about their customers.
Before the physical meeting there will be a number of contact moments. Phone calls, e-mail communication, website information, testimonials do help to make sales conversations less frequent but more effective. Today’s online communication possibilities allows buyers and salespeople to handle valuable time more efficient.

The result is that our presentation on the web will be of increasing importance. The online presentation will take over part of the job once was done physically. So you will have to invest more time and energy in making information available online. The online presentation does become a sales tool. Our website is no longer a company documentary showing office buildings or company vehicles (unless you are in real estate or car business). Our blog, our newsletter, our website are communication and information tools which have taken an important part of the tasks from the salesreps. The role of personal exchange of information had been partly taken over by online communication.

Sales changes. It requires awareness of the impact these changes have on our business. Whatever we sell, the way we interact both online and offline have to be integrated. In the past we simply called at customers and we tried to get as far as we could get. Nowadays we have to be much more efficient and effective. The times, they are a-changing.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Lyrics: The times they are a-changin - Bob Dylan, verse 2 and 5

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