Einstein's Corner: The Last Digital Frontier - The Death of a Salesman

I'm seated across from a friend, a top high-tech salesman, late one night on the mezzanine level of a midtown Starbucks. "I used to be in straight business development," he tells me. "But then the recession hit, and all the BD guys got canned. Everyone hired salespeople instead. So now I'm a sales guy, but I hardly do any real sales at all."

"How can that be?" I ask him. "Look at yourself. Sharp, engaging, aggressive, well-groomed, and articulate."

He smiles. "Flattery will get you everywhere," he says. "But the waters are poisoned now. The sales guys took over, each equipped with a cell phone, a BlackBerry, and an utterly impossible quarterly quota to satisfy. They hit the phones and email channels with a deluge of cold calls, and pretty soon all the prospective customers on the other end of the emails and phone calls shut down in self-defense."

"Then how do you sell anything?" I ask. He sighs in resignation.

"Sales has become more and more a function of PR," he says. "My company fabricates major partnerships whose only real purpose is to drive PR. The PR eventually drives prospective customers to our hospitality suites at the various trade shows, where I and my fellow sales colleagues descend on them like locusts for ten or fifteen minutes. Seems no one can afford to introduce personality until the very end nowadays. Everything is technology-driven up until the last ten or fifteen minutes. Then it's all personality and chemistry, just like always."



What a strange way to do business, I thought on the way back home that night on the F train. How can the practice of keeping personality out of the sales cycle until the last possible moment do anything except accelerate the trend toward commodification of the sales environment, eliminate price integrity, and reduce client loyalty? How did we create an environment wherein invaluable communications technologies were converted into first lines of defense deployed to shut down communications?

I remembered a similar conversation not long ago with Mark Nathanson, another top-ranked business development professional who had just launched ReverseReview, a new business development consultancy. ReverseReview employs the same processes used by top agency review consultants, but instead of targeting new agencies for clients, targets new clients for agencies.

"Agencies have replaced their personality-driven cultures with technology-driven cultures," Nathanson told me. "But everyone uses the same technology nowadays, so now there's no way to distinguish one technology-driven agency from another. Each successive wave of technology puts more distance between an agency and its original personality-driven mission statement."

"Agencies," he continued, "have all adopted the same one-size-fits-all approach to business development and sales, and it's the wrong approach.

It's an approach that can work only as long as your prospective clients answer their phones or their email. It's game over the minute they start screening their calls or sending your emails to the junk mail folder."

According to Nathanson, the essence of ReverseReview is a proprietary methodology designed first and foremost to help re-introduce personality as the distinguishing element in a revitalized mission statement--at the very beginning of the process. The rest of the methodology is designed to protect the integrity of the mission statement as a reflection of unique personality, then identify and contact those prospects most likely to respond to the personality-driven mission statement of the agency. Contrary to the more common numbers-based practice, the essence of the ReverseReview methodology is to reduce--not increase--the number of viable prospects, then to spend more time up front--not less--on cultivating each.

The process employed by ReverseReview marks a return to a much more classic form of business development and relationship marketing--one that requires an up-front investment in time and resources, and a willingness for agencies to eat their own relationship management dog food. It represents the antidote to technology-based sales initiatives that--like spam--may generate some sales but eventually poison the sales environment for everyone.

Bill Bernbach, the granddaddy of American advertising, paraphrased it well: He said you don't sell nothin' to nobody. He said you invest instead in the creation of what he called "environments-to-buy," co-conspiratorial environments that help potential clients or customers feel comfortable enough to loosen their purse strings.

So don't think sales. Think environments-to-buy. Linda Loman was right: "Attention must be paid..."

The future of your business relies on it.

Please note: A new Einstein's Corner discussion group has been opened on Yahoo at The Einstein's Corner discussion group is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.

Many thanks once again, my friends. Best to you and yours....

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