Sales and Marketing in the New Millennium – A Different Kind of Pressure

Creating a successful business requires a lot of preparation, planning, research and a little bit of luck.  But the one characteristic of any profitable business, large or small, is that they have customers!  The legendary Henry Ford once said this: “It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It’s the customer who pays the wages.”  Makes complete sense, doesn’t it?  So, in order to sell to, service and retain these customers, every organization no matter what industry or sector they are in has to first find customers.  The creation and success of a sales and marketing arm can thus be the main deciding factor to whether a company survives or is vanquished or flourishes.  The bottom line is, and had always been, that without sales and marketing, there are no customers or clients, thus no revenue.  It then stands to reason that with no revenue there’s no survival.  So now that we’re clear that sales and marketing are indispensible, let us review where they started, discuss where they are now, and gaze forward to where they are going.

A great author once said, “I find it useful to remember, everyone lives by selling something.”  OK, how many of you guessed Zig Ziglar? (If you don’t know who HE is, then you’ve never been in sales or are just completely not paying attention!).  How many thought Tom Hopkins (see above)?  Maybe not a sales guru, maybe it was the great Napoleon Hill, who wrote one of my favorites, Think and Grow Rich, right?  Maybe it was a movie character, like Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas’ unscrupulous character in “Wall Street“)?  You’re not even close.  It’s not even someone from the 20th Century, nor an American!  Would you believe it was the prolific Scotsman who penned Treasure Island in 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson!  So even before the Industrial Revolution, the importance of sales was evident. 

If you think about it, even if you are not in the selling profession, you are selling every day.  Are you a parent?  Yep, you’re in sales!  Trying to negotiate your seven year old to go to bed, eat their vegetables, or the myriad other issues that you face makes you a sales person.  Dating?  Oh yeah, sales.  You are trying to convince this person that you’re the perfect, compatible mate for them, whether it is for that evening or a lifetime.  Looking for a better grade on a test in school?  Interviewing for a new job?  Pulled over for speeding?  You get the idea.

In olden days, we’ve heard many stories which make us laugh.  Like in the Old West, when men would travel from town to town in their mysterious wagons with “magic” elixirs, mysterious medicines, and even rainfall to drought-stricken farmers.  Ever heard the phrase “snake oil salesman”?  That’s right out of the time the West was a lawless wilderness.  So the selling profession really didn’t have a great reputation as a result, the lively and sometimes entertaining sales pitches were just as empty as the piggy banks these charlatans left behind.  It got a bit better after the turn of the century, especially with the Industrial Revolution.  Very common was the “travelling salesman” who went wherever he had to in order to make someone buy something.  While more reputable than their Old West predecessors, there were more than a few who found trouble in many different circumstances.  I’m sure you’ve heard the one about the travelling salesman and the farmer’s daughter, right?  But these guys were the face of the company they were selling for, and it seemed that it didn’t matterhow they got it done, as long as the sales were coming in, heads were turned.

What techniques were used?  Well, of course, being old-school you would have utilized such things as a fully stocked sample case, a really well maintained ledger, and a lot of shoe leather.  When the phone came along, it was a bit easier to call your customers and then go visit, but it was still up close and personal.  And marketing came in the form primarily of advertising.  Early times there were posters and other print media.  As communications media grew, so did the advertising realm, with catchy jingles on old radio serials, to the cute early commercials and direct sponsorships of shows on television.  It was just another way for the company to assist the sales professional in doing their job.  Of course, there was the tried and true personal connection that remains as valid as ever today – the personal networking.  Just as was the case back then, having someone refer you to someone they know is as valuable as a gold bar in the safe deposit box.

Not all techniques were as effective, and one in particular is still widely used today – cold calling.  It comes in many forms, from the door-to-door introduction to the often-used but rarely fruitful phone calling frenzy.  In the Sixties, the cold call was more the former, the guy knocking on doors, like the Fuller Brush Man or the guy selling Encyclopedia Britannica.  But as the telephone grew more popular and was in every house and business, the time saved by calling a whole bunch of locations while sitting in your office seemed to make more sense.  But in reality, it’s a lot easier to hang up on a salesman on the phone than it is to slam a door on one at your business.  While some Fortune 500 companies insist their salespeople browbeat themselves into a quivering pool of Jell-O by banging out hundreds of calls a day, the smarter ones have either ditched the cold phone call altogether or made it a part of a structured marketing strategy.

Even with the archaic reliance on some of the old ways, the business world couldn’t have foreseen the impact the PC revolution would have on the way sales and marketing works.  While there had been use of computers for inventory and more using “dumb” terminals connected to a mainframe, the personal computer or PC allowed more information to be processed locally by the user.  In essence, the mainframe had come to the endpoint!  Tools such as databases and spreadsheets tracked customer information, orders, even preferences, all at the user’s fingertips.  But this turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, as the development of the Internet allowed for more and more connections and greater reach.  Suddenly, the magic world of electronic mail, or e-mail, would speed forward and leave postal mail in the dust as a way to send information to customers and prospects.  And with the advent of the World Wide Web, companies started to build websites to allow Internet users anywhere on the planet to see what they do or what they can provide.  And websites were not just for customers, they started to become tools for the smart businesses and their employees.  This was first custom built applications for inventory tracking, sales contact management, and the financial operations, like billing, collections and renewals.  I will expand on that later in the article.

This quantum leap forward with technology has spurred ever growing ways for sales and marketing to be more efficient and omnipresent.  In the 1990s the rise of the cellular telephone was looked at as a revolution in the way companies would work internally and externally.  But the initial devices were bulky and not totally reliable, requiring large bags to carry and frequent call drops.  But in the years since, the technology has rapidly improved while the prices and sizes of the devices dropped, and the access has become increasingly stable and reliable.  So much so that even the cellular companies could not have anticipated the widespread adoption across the general consumer space 15 years ago.  When my stepson got his first phone at 12 years of age, I knew that it was the end of that world as we knew it!  Go to a local mall and see for yourself if you don’t have kids or are skeptical!

But just having a mobile phone was only the start.  The concept of “mobility” for the small to mid-sized business has grown from just the ability to reach and be reached on the phone regardless of where you are, but the infusion of other office staples like email that has taken it to a whole new level.  While office computers were more and more becoming mobile as laptops, the ability to use them away from the main location grew as well.  The development of the “virtual private network” connection, or VPN, made it possible for a worker to connect a computer by creating an encrypted, inaccessible tunnel from the machine to the corporate network.  Even that technology has improved, with the early VPN a software client on the PC that could be clunky and required frequent patching and maintenance.  These clients evolved to a more or less “clientless” version, the SSL VPN.  In this technology a worker creates that same encrypted tunnel, but uses essentially a web browser, requiring far lower overhead on the remote machine.

Sounds cool, right?  But now the remote sales or marketing professional has two devices to deal with and lug around.  So naturally the world of technology continued to develop and the “smartphone” was born.  Many think of the Research in Motion flagship product, the BlackBerry, with launching that revolution.  But in truth venerable, old-school IBM actually created the first version called Simon, shown as a concept product at the huge COMDEX show in Las Vegas in 1993.  BellSouth subsequently sold the device, which contained a calendar, address book, world clock, calculator, note pad, e-mail, send and receive fax, and games.  But the device with no keypad didn’t fare well enough, and other companies tried to tap the market.  From Nokia, to Ericsson to the Palm, it was RIM’s entry in 2002 with BlackBerry that truly combined email and phone functionality in a small enough package to be functional.  2007 saw a ramp up of the wars, with the release of Apple’s iPhone and in 2008 with the advent of the Android open source-based OS.  Today, the BlackBerry user base is well over 32 million users, but is seeing competition from the latest iPhone, Android devices and the hard charging Windows Phone 7 handsets.  This number can go nowhere but up, with preferences each for the individual user and organization.

These devices are terrific tools, but applications that they access have become just as significant.  Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, is described as is an information industry term for methodologies, software, and usually Internet capabilities that help an enterprise manage customer relationships in an organized way.   A bit too techie a definition, I would simplify it to say an application that allows you to track and stay in close contact with your best customers and prospects.  From the early days of sales with a ledger, to the following Rolodex, to computer applications like ACT! and Goldmine.  Now, with Microsoft CRM on premises and hosted applications like, the functionality that sales and marketing needs can be found in one place.  Maintaining contacts, setting up reminders, sending email, logging quotes, even processing orders can be done in a self-contained system.  It’s not a quick fix – it requires some skill and talent to deploy and customize these applications, but once they are set to your liking, the sky is the limit to what can be done.  And of course creating marketing materials?  With Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Publisher, etc., you can have every aspect of the project done, shared and approved; you just have to find the right printer!

One last thing goes well beyond the website to the networking tool of the new millennium – Social Networking.  Web tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter were created in the young person’s world, but have now transitioned into the realm of business.  More and more, businesses of all sizes are leveraging the reach of these applications, and even creating specials targeted to those who subscribe, follow and/or tweet.  I believe we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg on this, and the next decade will show even more integration between these forms of contacting prospects and customers and CRM tools.  No longer is hitting the local chamber of commerce networking event enough.  That stack of business cards is much easier to manage as a list of “friends” or “fans” and logged into CRM. 

So the bottom line is, technology is a crucial piece to what sales and marketing is in today’s business world, both large and small.  And to get more out of them, having a trusted technology partner or staff is critical to their full usage and availability.  Or, you could go find the guy with the plaid coat and cigar and hope that he can get those prospects to believe in you… about as likely as there being flavored water ice found on Mars!

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