The 21st Century Rolodex: The Sales Network

I wrote a while ago about how I think the value of the rolodex is gone, yet still so many people hiring sales people want to know about your Rolodex.  Who do you know at their target companies, and who do you know in a particular industry.

The more you’ve done in sales, the more you know that this is all hogwash.  I’d take a great salesperson who can network over someone who knows 15 people in an industry ANY DAY on my team.  Learning how to sell and find new people to sell to is 150 times harder than calling 15 people you already know and asking them to buy your new product.  And the fact is, even if you know 15 people, the odds are that at best 1 or 2 will want it.  Then you are back to needing someone who can reach out to new people again…  So… again… who do you want on your team?

Take this idea a little further and you know that great salespeople can learn new ideas and industries very quickly.  So, what is better?  Someone on your team who can pick up sales pitches easily, creatively creates new pitches and finds the value the customer needs or someone who is so entrenched in a single industry that they don’t have any reference to how the rest of the world works.  I have worked in so many different industries, that I clearly think that someone with a broad experience is MUCH better.  Its the core sales ability that is the most critical.

As I debated the rolodex idea with someone recently, I explained what I thought the rolodex of the 21st century was – its your sales network – your sales reach.  When I look for a team member, there are many traits (like expensive hobbies) that I look for, but I’ve really begun to understand the value of the sales network that team members have.

Recently, a connection of mine called me for some sales advice.  They had a particular question about how to sell into an account to which I had sold millions of dollars of things.  I was able to quickly tell this salesperson exactly what the best process would be in order to get that deal.  How to navigate the organization… how their purchasing process worked…  How to circumvent the “approved vendor” requirements…  How to arm his champion with the information he would need to sell it up the chain… etc.   This person was selling a COMPLETELY different product from a COMPLETELY different industry, but my advice was able to help him close the deal.

Rolodex?  OK – yes he had me in his “rolodex” but not in the traditional sense of what a rolodex means… that you have sales contacts who you can sell to immediately.  What he had was a person in his rolodex that can help him make the sale to someone who wasn’t in his prospect rolodex.

This is the 21st century rolodex.  It is about who you are REALLY connected to within the world of sales that can help you get the information you need to make the sale.  Its about who can get you the advice for that industry, that product, and that pitch to make those sales easier and faster.

Its the sales people that have the biggest and broadest reach that you should be getting on your team.  If you are a sales person you should be finding, expanding and utilizing your sales network.

I think a lot of really great ideas and tools are coming out now to help harness and expand your network and I think that its a need whose time has come.  Now… can we please let the term “rolodex” die?