1,600 years ago, St. Augustine defined the present as a knife edge between the past and the future. Information technology has dulled the edge of the present and created our obsession with real-time information. Modern philosophers talk about presentism, the theory that only present things exist, which makes the future and past unreal.
We get stock market updates in real time, follow live weather and news reports, get real-time analytics of our sales operations, tweet in real time, instantly upload images on Facebook in real time, check available parking spaces in real time, and get real-time updates of expected waiting time in emergency rooms.
As our curiosity gets locked into real-time mode, we become less interested in information that’s "aged." What’s discussed on TV talk shows and in bars or hair salons is a reflection of what is happening within a progressively narrow window of time. Today is Thursday and Sunday’s football games are history. Tonight you won’t hear David Letterman, Jay Leno, or any of the late-night comedy show hosts joke about something that happened last week. The earthquake that struck Haiti, the cataclysmic flood in Pakistan, the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or Tiger Woods wrecking his Cadillac…all that information has moved sideways, stored away beyond our field of vision.
The Real-Time Sales Process
We live in an age in which we have a wealth of information that creates poverty of attention. How does that translate into the world of selling? On one hand, we have salespeople who have notoriously short attention spans, and on the other hand, we have prospects who have less and less time available to speak with a salesperson. To take advantage of a sales opportunity, salespeople need to shift from the traditional time-delay process to real-time selling mode. What’s the difference? In the past, when a customer expressed a need, the salesperson said, “I will get back to you with a solution.” That time-delay process is dead. Information technology gives salespeople the opportunity to meet customers with relevant information that the salesperson can gather in real time. Typical examples are InsideView, OneSource, Chatter or Savo. What many sales organizations don’t realize is that with every second a customer spends waiting for information, the chances for a sale decrease. That’s why smart companies automate proposals (like Sant) or quotes (like BigMachines) or accelerate the response time for Web inquiries (like InsideSales).
The Downside of Real-Time Efficiency
I believe that our preoccupation with real time makes us clueless about the future. Case in point: The recession shredded long-term business planning. I remember one CEO saying, “I am no longer focusing on the next quarter; I focus on reaching our weekly goals.” I hear sales leaders talk like football coaches: “Let’s focus on the next ten yards.”
As we have our eyes glued on real-time information tools and what’s happening now, we don’t realize that the future has arrived, but we’re not seeing it because our peripheral vision has narrowed. Another case in point: There are car dealerships in rural areas that haven’t changed their sales and service processes since the eighties, and there are Lexus dealerships that offer clients the use of a gym to work out while they wait for their car to be serviced.
Earlier this week, I met with a sales-operations manager from a company that employs 400 salespeople who are not using a CRM system. At our last conference, I spoke with a VP of sales who told me that her salespeople spend up to two hours daily researching prospects using Google and LinkedIn. What prevents people from recognizing the technology that ensures the future of their business? Is it their love for tradition? Is it the fear of change? Is it their lack of imagination? William Gibson once said, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.”
It’s time to take a break and scan the horizon for the telltale signs of our future. Could it be that by narrowing our field of vision we’ve moved the future sideways?
If you want to be part of the future of sales and marketing, check out the Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference, November 8–9, 2010, in San Francisco.