Lights, Camera, Action — Are You Ready for Business in the Post-Covid World?

by John Davis, Paul Davis Automation

My dad was, and continues to be, a great mentor for this second-generation manufacturers’ representative firm owner. Over the years, he has imparted a great deal of wisdom gleaned from years on the road and refined by countless hours of reflective windshield time prior to the days of cell phones and satellite radio. One of those kernels of wisdom, along with one of his prognostications, have both been at the forefront of my mind when thinking about how to best do business in this brave new world in which we find ourselves post-Covid. The wisdom is more of a mantra that he drilled into my head during my early years of training: “Did you come today prepared to do business?” In other words, did I have the right literature, the right demo, the right knowledge, the right clothing and, most important, the right attitude? Some of my toughest sales jobs early on were not with the customer, but rather with my dad, convincing him that yes, I was indeed ready, even if I did forget a part of that critical demo….

The prognostication was that sales calls — at some point in the indeterminate future — would be done holographically. Now, I have always been the technological member of the family — my background includes stints as a professional software engineer as well as a professional electrical engineer developing circuit board-level products. My first paycheck was from IBM at age 16 — I had written some documentation for them on configuring the Linux printer subsystem. I still remember the confusion on my parents’ faces when I received the check — they had no idea what I did in the basement at night, but apparently it wasn’t so bad if IBM was sending me checks.

That said, I always thought that the holographic sales call prediction was a bit far-fetched. I would roll my eyes — albeit gently — as my dad told me that I just wasn’t getting the “big picture” of where technology was headed. Each time a new technology rolled out — first it was GoToMeeting, then the iPhone, then FaceTime, and then VR — his convictions would grow stronger while I started to think that maybe the old man had a point.

My Dad has been retired for almost a decade, and in that time, I had all but forgotten about the holographic sales call idea.

Then Covid hit, and we all found ourselves scrambling for ways to make Teams, Zoom, Uberconference, Skype for Business, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, and the rest of their ilk fill in for real person-to-person interaction.

One year later, I find myself in an interesting hybrid existence. The type of work that we do is very engineering-centric; that is, I spend as much time selling as I do, helping customers design our line card into their machines. In fact, for us, the engineering is, indeed, the selling. These types of meetings lend themselves fantastically well to online meetings as I can be more responsive and just as collaborative as if we were meeting in person. Better yet, without the lost time of travel, I can do more work in one day than I previously may have done in a week.

On the other hand, nothing beats in-person interaction for building rapport with a new customer. Lunch meetings, golf outings, and good old hands-on engineering on an existing piece of equipment will never go out of style. Humans are social animals — we need this type of interaction in order to thrive.

Salespeople are really good at the in-person side of the coin — we have been doing it our entire careers and, as professional salespeople, we had darn well better be good at it. I have always contended that manufacturers’ reps are at the top of the salesperson hierarchy. My rationale is simple — it is impossible to make a career out of being an independent, commission-only rep if you are awful at your job. So yes, when it comes to in-person meetings, we as members of MANA in good standing are ready to do business face-to-face.

But are you ready to do business virtually?

Based on what I have seen over the past year, we salespeople have some work to do on this front. I cannot tell you how many virtual meetings I have spent looking up someone’s poorly lit nose trying to pick out tidbits of information barely transmitted by the tin can echo box of a microphone that is doing a better job amplifying the dog barking in the background than the person talking in front of the screen.

It used to be that a website and custom email domain were all that reps needed to complete their professional online presence. In this post-Covid world, however, a poor-quality virtual representation of yourself is just not acceptable if you want to be taken seriously as a professional in your field.

The good news is that you don’t have to invest a small fortune and become a professional YouTube content creator to look great for your online meetings. A good webcam (I use a GoPro camera with a suction cup mounted to the back of my monitor), a USB-powered light, a good quality external microphone on a desk mounted stand (or a good headset), and a green screen backdrop from Amazon will set you head and shoulders above the rest. If you don’t want to go the spendy route and use a GoPro, Logitech makes a range of quite good webcams for very affordable prices. If you go the Logitech camera route, you can find all of this equipment on Amazon for around $500.

My old man may not have been as far off as I originally thought (don’t tell him I said that — it will go right to his head). For all of the bad that Covid wrought on the world, it did jumpstart and accelerate the adoption of technologies that untether us and set the work from home (or work from anywhere, for that matter) revolution into full gear. Just for fun, I searched for “holographic sales meetings” the other day and came across Microsoft Mesh. If the videos showcasing this new technology are to be believed, I may be eating crow while talking to a holographic representation of my dad.

Times, they are a-changing.

John Davis has two professional passions — engineering new software and hardware products and having the privilege of being the second-generation owner of his family’s rep business, Paul Davis Automation. Both keep him busy during the cold Cleveland winters. When not at work or spending time with his family, he can be found at the local airport.