The bad news is all around us

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a tool salesman back in the era before it was common for everyone to own a radio or television set, let alone a computer or cell phone?

Yes, getting information about new and upcoming tools would definitely take a lot longer, as would receiving product from your company. Sales meetings might be an annual event instead of monthly/bi-monthly! Imagine how long it would take to receive credits for your broken tool returns — ouch! You think hold times for customer service seem a bit too long on occasion now? This would give a new meaning to, “I will look into that for you.”

The trips in between stops would also be different with no radios to occupy the mind or serve as background noise. No phone to call in orders, ask questions or just call another distributor to shoot the bull. I’m not really sure if the phrase “multi-tasking” had purpose.

Take away our high-tech phones, our very helpful computers and possibly a Pocket PC (if you use one) and what we do today is not all that different than in years past. The basics have remained pretty much the same, we show up, carry in our products on promo, do a presentation, ask for the sale and, if all goes well, write up a slip.

I won’t hold anything back here; I am 100-percent comfortable with the way I have it now. Selling back then just doesn’t seem that appealing to me without my creature comforts … call me spoiled.

Recently I have found myself thinking of life back then and how folks dealt with their tough times. In fact, with the absence of radio, television and Internet to inform the masses about current news — how did the word get out that times were tight?

Picture a blacksmith working a full day, armed only with the knowledge of his trade and desire to work, with very little outside persuasion to alter his mindset. Each day would be like the one prior, except for the push to produce more. I guarantee a conversation with him would be enlightening and refreshing. I even suspect that his response to the news of hard economic times would amount to little more than a shoulder shrug before returning to work. The news might remain in his mind as he hammers steel throughout the day, but — there is work to be done.

We, however, live in an era where the desire to be kept abreast of the most current news has, by design, lead to over-coverage. It seems as though news channels, in their quest to bring the latest info, cover the same information every hour and “stay fresh” by discussing it with different guests for different opinions. Until something new pops up to report, you can count on two-day-old news being overanalyzed.

Having the latest info at our fingertips is neat; but at what price?

How many times upon entering a shop have you been asked:
“So how are all the other shops doing?”
“Are you finding it slow out there?”
“Has your business started feeling the economy?”

At times I have thought to myself as these questions are asked that they are more interested in a discussion about the current slowdown than they are about actually working.

If you stop and think about it, techs are continually bombarded from various sources with minute-by-minute updates filling their minds with enough info to form an opinion, but rarely does the news media have a positive spin. The questions they ask may be just to see if the worst they’ve heard is true, or not so bad as reported. Your answer to their questions could help shape their feelings and be a glimpse of hope or confirmation of doom.

It can be difficult in a sales environment to combat this wave of “Did you hear?” while trying to stay upbeat and focused. All of us have a job to do, just like the blacksmith. The news will never change our fundamentals — only our mindset. As distributors, we see a lot of people on our routes and, whether we realize it or not, we too are a source of news to our customers. You actually have the ability to bring only good news for them.

I prefer not to get sidetracked with my customers in conversations about our economy (I do remain mindful of it). The most important reason to me is that if I stop to talk about our economy, I may just stop creating one!