The jan/san industry is notoriously slow to adapt to new technology, but as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets become more mainstream, and more software programs such as sales dashboards, analytics and customer relationship software are geared toward helping distributors do business efficiently, being tech-savvy is more realistic and attainable than ever before.
Guiding and training the sales workforce to use recommended or required devices and programs is a challenge, distributors say — but one that is overcome with education and encouragement.

With help from an IT department head or consultant, distributors should be thoughtful about technology implementation strategies for their sales departments, says Ryan Banks, vice president of sales and marketing for Las Vegas-based Brady Industries Inc.

Giving employees a small number of specific sales goals, and tying software and mobile tool use to those goals, helps Brady’s sales team embrace technology without overwhelming them, Banks says.

“Sometimes you can give your sales team so much at their fingertips, they don’t do anything with it,” he says.

Using technology to increase sales potential is a no-brainer for distributors, especially as competitiveness increases in the jan/san market.

Managing Technology Expectations

Brady Industries provides a laptop and a mobile device — an iPad — for each salesperson, in order for them to perform their job responsibilities and duties. In implementing that technology, the sales staff has some flexibility as far as what’s required, Banks says.

“Essentially, we hold everyone to a certain standard and then we provide training for those who want to do more with the tools,” he says. “Everyone’s required to be able to do some basic level of functioning.”

While a certain level of technological knowledge and skill is preferred for new hires, it’s not required.

A good sales team should be made up of a diverse group of people with various skills and strengths, Banks says; there is no “perfect mold” for a successful sales rep.

“We pride ourselves on having a very diverse sales team — from culture to experiences to skill, it’s very diverse. And we pride ourselves that everyone can do business with us, that we can relate to everyone,” Banks says. “That creates some dynamics with technology for sure because some sales reps focus on relationships, some focus on pedaling products. There’s a wide variety of personalities involved.”

The social and psychological aspects of managing and motivating the personalities on a distributor’s sales staff are one of the challenges of implementing technology. Two types of personalities concern distributors: those who overuse technology, to the point that they aren’t socially engaged, and those who refuse to use it or learn new things.

Encouraging A Balance With Technology

Because of the wide variety of comfort levels employees have with technology, training is always a challenge, Banks says, particularly in regard to those employees who refuse to embrace technology.

“I think it’s a challenge with the sales reps who aren’t staying current,” he says. “Historically they’ve been successful without it and they’re trying to work their way through — they almost think it slows them down as opposed to speed them up because of the time it takes for them to become capable with that basic technology.”

The immediacy of exchanging information electronically, and the time saved on paperwork with the corporate office, managers and customers, is one of the most obvious benefits of becoming more tech-savvy.

“For a lot of companies, [sales staff] need to report things all the time — documenting, filling out a sales log, mileage, whatever,” says Brad Bobbitt, sales rep for AmSan, Pennsauken, N.J. “It really frees up a lot of time for a salesperson to electronically send a lot of that information. … In sales you have to react immediately and technology is the thing that helps you with an immediate reaction.”

Companies and individuals who don’t keep themselves current with the newest advances in mobile device, software and hardware technology run the risk of becoming obsolete, Banks says.

The pace of business has sped up, thanks to the capabilities of the software programs and devices relied on in the business world. Sales reps need to be adaptable and open to change in order to adapt their sales styles to stay ahead of the tech curve, he says.

While it’s a battle to bring certain employees up-to-date with internal proficiency requirements, it’s also a challenge to deal with a new breed of employee: the young, super-tech-savvy salesperson who is addicted to technology.

“You have to stay interactive in a lot of aspects but when it comes to sales, there’s a fine line between getting information from those things and not losing the personal touch with the customer,” says Bobbitt. “To me, it’s all about making friendships and bonding with the customer more than it is sending e-mails.”

What might be common sense to Bobbitt — staying connected with customers in multiple ways, including phone, video and face-to-face communication — may not be to younger professionals who grew up constantly e-mailing and texting their friends and family.

Despite tech-savviness, that personal connection is valuable and crucial to the success of salespeople, Banks says.

“There’s no question that for our younger, more newly hired sales reps, it’s more intuitive for them to use the technology, but they still have that other dynamic of having to be able to interact with someone face-to-face and be able to communicate. They still have to have high level of communication skills outside of the technical devices to be successful,” Banks says.