The Internet and the Death of a Salesman
I love Broadway
I have been to New York several times and always take the time to take in a show or two. Actors that are larger than life perform in some of America’s most time tested stories. One of my fondest memories was seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman". I took my son and we sat on the second row and I was completely blown away by Mr. Hoffman's performance. From the moment Hoffman walked onto the stage and looked out at the audience you could see in his eyes that he was lost in the world. For those unfamiliar with the story, it follows the demise of Willie Lowman’s career as a salesman. Hoffman portrayed the old man who has seemingly been passed by in life. Seeing his performance was an experience I will never forget, possibly because it made me consider the landscape of sales in this day and age.
Life on the Road
In today's world we are seeing a different death for our salesmen of today. For the last hundred or so years businesses have operated under pretty much the same paradigm. Build a quality product, advertise with business cards, newspapers, magazines, and face to face visits, then close the deal. I used this strategy as a road salesman for a number of years and I have to tell you, it was fun. Meeting with clients, traveling across the countryside, eating at buffets and then having drinks at the Holiday Inn Bar. After a while you could look around the bar and spot your fellow traveling salesmen, nursing a drink while they read the evening newspaper, or filling out paperwork, dreading going back to an empty hotel room. Six o'clock coffee so you can see a customer one hundred and fifty miles away by eight, and all those gas station lunches. Scarfing down greasy BBQ while studying a map to plot a course for Boise. Yea, I miss it.
Where We’re Going We Don't Need Roads
Those days may finally be coming to a close. Modern business is changing so rapidly that we cannot wrap our arms around it sometimes. My cell phone has virtually replaced my laptop, which replaced my day planner ten years ago. Nowadays I don’t have to plan a route, I just punch the address into my phone and it gives me directions. I can video chat with a client who is having an issue without leaving the comfort of my home. The other day I was able to diagnose a diesel issue on a 6.0L Ford via Facetime. It boggles the mind. I used to see seven or eight salesmen a month when I started into the business thirty years ago. Now I see maybe one a month. They don't seem to exist anymore and that is sad. An email has replaced a visit, a text replaced the handshake. We don't get flyers in the mail, we get PDF's. It is frustratingly efficient.
The New World and those it’s left Behind
Years ago I had an old fashion salesman working for me. Think "Don Draper" of the diesel business. He came out of retirement to help me expand my business and was a gem to work with, but he never quite got how business had changed. That became profoundly evident when I was checking in the incoming UPS one morning and a large box came from a printing company. I opened it to find letterhead. Beautiful full color letterhead on bonded top quality paper. It cost a fortune. Bob had ordered it to mail out follow up letters to potential clients he visited during his travels. I still have about twenty reams of it.
Maybe the old days haven't disappeared as much as we think. Maybe we just need to power off our digital world and remember a time when business was done over a parts counter rather than a computer monitor. I think maybe I will fire up the old Royal 10 typewriter, plop in some of that letterhead and write a few customers. Maybe even hand deliver a few just for old time's sake. With any luck I can make Boise by sundown.
Thank you for your time
Founder of Diesel Care & Performance