The Value of Bridge Building in the Sales World

Marketing is not new. The next time you’re having breakfast at Cracker Barrel, notice some of the old advertisements hanging on the walls for ambience. Selling isn’t new. The old west’s traveling salesmen offered elixirs and antidotes for a number of ailments. By the time the salesmen had worked their way through a couple towns, they had their sales pitch down and it was most often compelling and entertaining.

What’s new? What’s always new? The era we market and sell in. The trade (selling) is the same, yet because the landscape changes, so does the buying psychology of the day. The reason for the change today and throughout the years? Technology. Signs were replaced by print which was trumped (am I allowed to use that word still?) by radio which was replaced by the TV screen which gave way to the Internet and SEO which is now being superseded by raw lead generation. I’ve simplified the progress for the sake of illustration but you get the gist. As the years progress, humans receive their information in new ways and the new delivery method changes the buying habits of the consumer. The digital age has affected communications in a way no one could have imagined. Selling and manufacturing is still based upon supply and demand but the rules of engagement change. Actually, change is the only a constant.

So why do I use the term bridge building? Because there are constants and new variables from generation to generation, and a method bridge allows each subsequent generation of sales professionals to learn from their predecessors while also helping the predecessors stay relevant and productive by learning from their successors.

Allow me to elaborate: the need for relationships will never die, regardless of technological advances. People still are and will continue to be relationship seeking beings. We still need to touch, feel, laugh, and be needed. It is in our DNA; it’s how we are wired. Current generations can learn much about human interaction from those who grew up before technology changed the world, and older sales professionals have much to learn about the efficiency of the modern tools available to them. Bridges are in order.

Let’s see how a bridge of cooperation, support, and sharing of knowledge can benefit both the older and younger sales pros through real world examples. Only a couple will do; your common sense will allow you to come up with many, many ways teamwork will elevate everyone’s game.

See if this doesn’t feel like a familiar scenario: A baby boomer sales professional—we’ll call her Alice—is in the last decade of her career, still using her Excel spreadsheet to manage her contacts. She’s comfortable, doesn’t like change and in fact is a bit intimidated by it, so she stays in her comfort zone. The company hasn’t forced her to use the new CRM because it’s not worth the hassle of teaching an old dog new tricks but the fact of the matter is she’s working slowly and inefficiently. Alice doesn’t keep up with her notes as well as she could, and, without the CRM, she doesn’t have an automatic date of the last contact. She also isn’t integrated with the company’s e-mail server, Constant Contact, and therefore doesn’t place the leads into buckets for re-marketing, meaning she sends individual e-mails whenever she gets around to it. “Getting around to it” means sporadically because sifting through the notes to customize follow ups is a pain. The floor traffic has slowed to a drizzle and though her people skills are excellent, she is working inefficiently since she doesn’t get in front of enough people. Therefore, her decent closing rate can’t overcome her lack of follow up organization, so she is mired in mediocrity after being a super star sales person pre-2008, when the floor traffic was good. In short, she has none of the new tools available to her in her “tools of the trade” tool box which she could use to elevate her sales game. The worst part of this whole story? Alice is resentful of the tsunami of technology and unhappy doing what she used to be good at and doesn’t do enough of any longer: selling pianos. She longs for the good ole’ days which are gone forever.

Here’s scenario #2: A millennial (Millennials now make up more of the work force then Gen X laborers!) who grew up with technology—we’ll call him Nate—is a young energetic man who wants to figure out new ways to sell. He loves to “live chat,” Facebook, text, and, to a degree, e-mail. He gets a bit annoyed when the older sales representatives don’t get that this is the way to communicate in the age we live in. He is sharp with technology and has learned all the product knowledge he needs to impress someone, yet, like Alice, he is frustrated with his results as a piano sales person. He sends a lot of piano pictures and prices over the Internet but, time and again, the prospects go dark on him after he provides the information and he can’t get them to respond. He doesn’t understand why since he answers every question the prospects ask. Nate hates working the phone and doesn’t do it any more than he has to because he knows how invasive it is to get calls from salesmen. He’s selling some entry level, used, and intermediate stuff but can’t seem to hook any big sales. He loves playing piano and being around the instruments, but figures if he doesn’t improve his sales at Prestige Pianos, he will need to find something else to do for a living, which totally bums him out.

These two are an interesting study. They both have a lot going for them but fall far short of success in the current selling landscape. What do they need to achieve success? What the other one has. Now, there are the gen-Xers born in between these generations who would theoretically be in better shape than either of these poor souls but the odd thing is, in the piano business, there aren’t that many. It’s like we skipped a generation; not totally, but the average age of today’s piano sales professional is easily over 55. Some gen-X sons and daughters are in ownership and management positions but, by and large, we have an old sales staff pool in this business which leads to a curious mix as we integrate the younger folks. It’s a mess, right? Not really. It’s actually a fantastic opportunity for both generations. Why? I said it earlier: they both need what the other has.

What if Alice and Nate were in the same gallery and curious about each other’s strengths?
If Alice realized that with some courage, learning, and practice, she could master some technology to make selling fun again (because she could get to more prospects), it would create a much better path to retirement. She might not even wish that retirement would hurry up and arrive! She could promote herself and nurture her leads more effectively by adding the Internet (not merely e-mails) to her prospecting and selling world. Her reluctance to get out of her comfort zone is her worst enemy.

If Nate realized the warmth, care, and concern a well-crafted voicemail can deliver, he might be more willing to use the phone for what it was originally designed for: talking to folks. He would learn that a combination of different communication tools is much more efficient than always doing the same, easy thing. Eventually, he would get comfortable enough he would discover that speaking on the phone helps sell pianos, especially the grand pianos. His reluctance to embrace relationship selling is his worst enemy.

The reason Alice has the ability to sell the BIG units (when she does get the opportunity) is because those buyers need to feel confident before making the decision to buy a large ticket item. That takes communication. The reason Alex does so well with the players and digitals is because he is comfortable with the technology he grew up with. What each one needs to reach their highest personal selling potential is to incorporate the skills the other already has. This is why we believe that teamwork and chemistry need to accommodate good natured competition in order to create the healthiest possible selling environment.
If you are an owner or sales manager, the greatest gift you can give those under your supervision is to teach them to share. Sounds elementary but it’s like that old adage: everything I need to succeed in life I learned in kindergarten. I don’t mean to simplify and say it’s easy to create this environment because, after all, you are dealing with humans and they tend to be good at complicating simple things, don’t’cha know. Yet this is our charge. If we are to lead our industry to growth, an industry that promotes the fantastic benefits of playing this instrument we love, we must be “bridge builders.” We must build and reverse the “shrinking industry” mindset.

Now, as you know, building takes being industrious and it takes caring. Building something special doesn’t happen overnight, yet, with the new tools at our disposal, our love for music, and the communication skills we have learned over time, we can get this done. We can pass on a great opportunity to the next generation. So, since building does indeed take some time, we better get started, right?

Happy Building,

Jack Klinefelter
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