Communications Between Reps and Their Principals

by Greg Bruno, President, Midlantic Enterprises, Inc.

There are many ways to communicate with principals; a phone call, a voice mail, a written note, a text, an e-mail, a fax and let’s not forget the letter. We have all used these to build our businesses and to communicate with our principals. E-mail messages have rendered obsolete most of the traditional forms of communication and have become the primary business communication tool, but this may be at the expense of our understanding of the messages being conveyed. I’ll try to explain.

Have you ever noticed how important information in the second or later paragraphs of an e‑mail is completely missed or ignored? Lately, I find myself having to follow up with information multiple times on e‑mails that are not completely read by the reader. It seems to me that most readers do not go beyond the first few sentences of an e‑mail, thereby ignoring important information that may be presented later in the e‑mail. Today’s fast-paced business environment is using e‑mails as quick and brief bursts of information between parties. E‑mails are being used to transmit the same information once easily contained in an interoffice memo, but in two- or three-sentence bursts. Consider this: On one job I have 69 e‑mails that were sent and received starting with the initial RFQ thru delivery of prototypes. On a second job I have 60 e‑mails and we’ve just only prototyped that part. And on a third job, I now have 76 e‑mails and we’ve only just quoted. Certainly, I have no scientific evidence, but we do not seem to be able to communicate in more than one or two bits of information at a time. Are we dumbing down the business environment?

When e‑mail was first introduced, I thought it would make our communications easier, quicker and more precise. In fact, we may all say that initially it was so, but this lasted only for a short while. The development of smart phones, and more specifically the transmission of hundreds of text messages daily, has brought about the advent of today’s 160-character text message. I believe that these brief blasts of information have altered the lengths of communications and e‑mails beyond anything anyone expected. The high volume use of texting as a communication tool may have changed interoffice communications in ways few of us recognize. I believe that there is a direct correlation between the limitations on today’s 160-character text messages and one’s inability to process or focus on a multi-paragraph e‑mail.

There is no doubt that today’s primary communication tool in the agency-principal relationship is e‑mail. I regret the transition to e‑mail as our primary communication tool. But sadly, I cannot get away from it and expect to remain in business.

With each customer contact we are expected to ask probing questions and dig deeply to yield serious answers, discover issues, trends, needs and/or objections. Our challenge today as professional sales agents is to take that information and convert it into a 160-character message without forgetting the specific details or needs. Sound impossible? Difficult at best, impossible for many. At the very least, communications have become extremely inefficient, but sadly, I do not have an answer. So we need to prepare for endless strings of e‑mails each yielding 1 or 2 ideas at a time. The inability to communicate beyond 160 characters may the norm. If so, this article would be 22 messages.

Greg Bruno is the founder and president of Midlantic Enterprises, Inc., a multi-person sales agency selling custom and standard engineered components to OEMs and large industrial companies in the NY to DC corridor. He has been active with the NJ/NY chapter of MANA, participated in the development of the current MANA Agency-Principal Contract and has served on the MANA Board of Directors of MANA.