“It was twenty years ago today.”
Yes, I know, a shameless attempt to get you into my blog by quoting the famous opening line from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But as I was getting my day going on a 32 degree “spring” morning in late March, I realized that my work life changed dramatically just about twenty years ago. It might as well have been the Stone Age.
I was in sales at Northeastern Envelope Manufacturing Corporation of Braintree, MA. My boss was not just old school; he was the principal of the old school. As such he insisted on a daily call report from me which up to that point I had dutifully hand-written and submitted, five at a time, at the end of each week.
I had recently purchased and began using my first personal computer sometime in 1994. I was just getting used to it and had heard of ACT contact management software. I decided to give it a shot so in the spring of 1995, I uploaded all my contacts, built a data base and began generating and printing my daily reports. This was initially not met with enthusiasm by my boss who was still using index cards to keep track of his contacts. However, he eventually (but grudgingly) accepted the reports, and I was off and running into the information age.
My next life-altering experience came later that same year when I got my first cellphone. Up to that point I had a pager or “beeper” as we called it firmly affixed to my belt. One of the inside staff at our office would call the pager number to let me know that someone had called looking for me. I would have to find a pay phone, pull out my trusty roll of dimes and call the office to receive the message and then call the person back. This happened many times each day I was on the road.
I remember the first day I used my cellphone on the job. I called a colleague of mine to joyously announce that I was actually walking around downtown Boston talking to her on the phone. I was so excited! No longer would I have to use a payphone in the rain while juggling my notes and umbrella and fumbling for the dial.
Just those two things increased my productivity (and my income) tremendously. I was a bit of a late adopter but I think it was around twenty years ago that cell phones and e mails started becoming a big part of the daily life in business.
Well here we are in 2015 and I’m still using ACT (a much later and improved version) and have had a succession of upgraded phones leading to my IPhone 6 which I love. I can pretty much run major parts of my business through my smart phone. Technology enables me to do meetings on line, answer my e mail from wherever I happen to be, send links of video to prospective customers and run a fairly sophisticated marketing operation solo. All stuff I wouldn’t have imagined “twenty years ago today”. (A second Beatle reference in that last sentence – so clever!)
So what did I spend a majority of my time doing last week? Calling and e mailing customers to set up face to face appointments. I was able to line up several and each one of them was very productive. In each case I learned something new about our customer’s requirements and how we might be able to better compete to meet them. I also was able to personally express our gratitude for their business and end with a handshake which is not something you can do digitally.
Technology has changed our world and our business. I hear a lot of envelope manufacturers, envelope printers and web printers grousing about how the decline in overall volumes due mostly to computers and software have pointed our industry toward inexorable decline. There’s some truth to that but print on paper and direct mail are here to stay.
We need to embrace the enhanced ability to be more productive provided by new technologies and use them to our advantage. At the same time, we also need to remember that ours is a personal business based on strong relationships forged by customer service. It’s easier to send an e mail and there are many times when that is the best approach. But there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings whenever they can be accomplished either in cultivating new business or cementing existing relationships. Despite all the great toys and tools at our disposal, successfuly selling envelopes and print in 2015 is not all that much different than it used to be.
To meet the challenges of remaining viable and profitable it helps to remember, to quote from another great song from a different era, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.”