A friend of mine called from his car enroute from LA to Phoenix for F2F sales meetings with his HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) customers and prospects, and, like almost all of my contemporaries, he was complaining about the young turks horning in on his business. He was particularly concerned that the manufacturers whose equipment he reps would rather hire three youngsters who hustle blindly after deals rather than keep the one old guy who knows what he's doing.
"They don't care if my sales are up," he moaned. "These kids are promising to triple sales!"
Age discrimination? Hardly. A changing of the guard? Without a doubt. A new and different way of managing customer relationships? Definitely. Thirty-somethings that would rather work with people that know what "growth hacking" and "SEO" mean, and don't appreciate old guys dissing their hip-hop or new country? Reality in living color.
Yes, that and more. The cheese, all the cheese, is on the move, and if there's any left in its old tried and true location, it's probably because the old guy founder of the business is going to keep doing things the *Smith Barney way until he croaks or sells the business. Truth is the motivational classic Who Moved My Cheese? is more applicable today, especially for Boomers, than it was when it was first published. Like Wayne Gretzky's famous advice -- "don't skate to where the puck is, skate to where it's going" -- insisting that the old tried and true way of transacting business is still the best way of transacting business is to make an instant anachronism out of yourself, even if you're right.
That is to say, even if selling HVAC equipment is a brick and mortar business, that doesn't mean brick and mortar sales strategies are where it's at, any more than outmoded supply chain management techniques.
My friend got very quiet on the other end of the bitstream when I told him where I thought his cheese had gone. "It's likely that your clients would rather get a text than a phone call, and might prefer to conduct the entire transaction via email, and if some kind of F2F experience is necessary, they're likely to prefer Skype or Facetime. Because not one of them can afford the time it takes to drive from LA to Phoenix."
My friend has been in business for 31 years and his idea of being tech savvy is to post his whereabouts and personal goings-on on Facebook. I'm not suggesting that he needs to start tweeting, tumbling, flickering, instagramming or putting his profile on about.me, though he would do well to get a handle on LinkedIn. He also needs to engage with his industry online, and if HVAC has been slow to go social, a huge leadership opportunity has just fallen in his lap. But he won't be able to take advantage of it driving I-10 through Yuma.
Chances are if you're a regular Huffington Post Over-Fifty reader you're already keeping a close eye on your cheese, especially if you're still working for a living. Maybe some of us are going whole hog with the hair dye, botox, liposuction, a goatee, a new wardrobe, new teeth, and conducting business via a Google Glass and SnapChat.
That's not what I'm suggesting to my 58-year-old road warrior salesman pal. But I am suggesting that he gets hip to how his younger customers -- anyone under 45 -- expect to do business and the "everything hacking" lexicon of the digi-workplace.
His cheese, even in the Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning business, is on the move. I'll bet it is for all of us, right? What's your cheese relocation story?
*Smith Barney's famous commercial from the 70's featured John Houseman looking very dire and serious, a little drool at the corner of his lips, declaring: "We make money the old fashioned way: We earn it."
Jeb Stewart Harrison is the author of the novel Hack and soon to be released American Corporate. He is the proprietor of "Adventures in Limboland" and will write, paint, sing or play anything for money or a reasonable facsimile thereof.