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This Telephone Has Too Many Shortcomings

Today, we are reposting a blog by our friend Matthew Ferrara. – The KCM Crew

old-telephone-260x300Don’t make the same mistake about new technology Western Union once did.

Some readers might remember a “boxing match” we did a couple of years ago in Las Vegas. It was part educational, part entertainment, but underneath there was an important question: Are modern technologies like social media and texting valid tools for salespeople to grow their business? In the blue robes, I fought for modern technology; in the red robes was the defender of traditional tools, like the phone. For thirty minutes, we exchanged jabs over things like telemarketing, door knocking, Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, it was Las Vegas: The score was staged to a “tie.” The point: A little of everything is a good strategy for any smart salesperson.

About a year later, however, the real verdict was released, when Traditional Fighter’s organization finally created a Facebook page. As we’ve often said: Even the Pope uses Twitter to take his message to the people, because nobody’s going to his Sunday Open House’s either. In this case, another analogy, involving the freezing of a traditionally hot place came to mind. No matter. It was simply gratifying to see another Traditionalist come in from the cold.

Or so we thought. Old habits are hard to break, which is why we weren’t all that surprised when a friend passed us an e-newsletter from Traditional Fighter last week. It was making fun of the how young people use technology to communicate (No irony was mentioned of the fact that this disdain was being sent by email).

Leveraging a quote of Albert Einstein who once said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots,” the email showed a series of pictures of young people staring at their smartphones at coffee shops, the beach, museums, and so on, rather than interacting with each other. The message: Here’s our generation of idiots. This stuff is a waste of time. Don’t become an idiot yourself.

Now, in all honesty, we’ve noted that these trends exist: Many of the examples we share have noted how Generation X and Y have formed new and different communications habits. Gen X prefers texting over face-to-face meetings 44% of the time, says Pew Research. It’s widely noted that Gen Y sends 3000 or more texts each month, “talking” by phone less than half as much as Baby Boomers did. None of this is disputed. Some of it even seems a little silly – such as young people staring at their smartphones at a baseball game. But at the same time we might “lament” the change, we must recognize that we cannot change it.

Like it or not, always-on-mobile-communications is here to stay.

The world has moved on from 1950.

What we can do is control how we react to it. That’s the problem we have with the idea that Albert Einstein’s prediction has come true. First, and perhaps not out of character for Traditional Fighter, it’s insulting. Even if taken lightly, to accept this quote is to put in the back of your head a certain dislike, a peering-down-the-nose at the next generation of customers. What you think about your customers matters, and it comes out in subtle ways (and gross ones, as the email proves). The last thing a salesperson needs is even a hint of the my-customers-are-idiots thinking: Haven’t we learned that from the your customers *aren’t* always right crowd.

Yes, your customers are always right; and no, they’re not idiots.

More worrisome, however, is the thinking that says, If you succumb to these changes, you’re an idiot, too! Regardless of a decade of data showing how technology drives today’s best sales organizations, this is pure fear mongering to a group of people who are worried about their ability to incorporate these changes into their lives. After 22 years of helping people do this, we can attest that it’s possible for everyone; if they can get over their fear. And no salesperson we know of has really adopted an “either/or” mentality: They know that they must adapt their approach to suit the customer, not the other way around, if they want to get paid.

That’s what makes this thinking so dangerous: It’s not just insulting: It’s encouraging people not to even try.

The irony of such neo-Luddite thinking is that we’ve been through this many times before. History is full of examples of people resisting changes in technology, science, medicine and social organization: You can Google it, or even find it in your local library. Even if you dismiss history, your own thinking should be challenging you: If there’s exists a generation of young people who prefer to text each other than speak in-person or on the phone, what makes you think they’re going to take your call when you’re trying to earn their business? No answer is ever given: Just blank out.

All of which takes us back to the business of predictions and prescriptions. Using Einstein’s quote to claim that today’s youth are incapable of interacting with each other is unfortunate. We’re fairly certain Facebook has been able to bring a billion people together into a giant customer market without placing a single phone call. We’ve personally just completed a complex refinance of our mortgage without ever speaking to our mortgage professional: Email and text worked just fine. Yet examples have little effect if you don’t want to see the world as it is: Quotes from the past are much better dire warnings about the future.

So we’ll offer one of our own, in the same spirit, just in case it might change your mind:

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us. – Western Union memo, 1876?

Ask yourself, have you ever heard of anyone today paying their “Western Union” phone bill each month?

Be strong. Be brave. Be bold. But most of all, live in the future, not the past. It’s where all the action is going to be.

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5 replies
  1. Ken Montville
    Ken Montville says:

    Matthew is nothing if not opinionated.

    Yes, lots of irony and as I once heard from a panel or “top producers” years ago, “Technology will not replace the real estate agent. Real estate agents who embrace technology will replace those that don’t.”

    I wonder if another issue might be addressed. It seems that the average age of real estate agents keeps moving up while the average age of the home buyer/seller keeps moving down. What does it say about the profession that not enough young(er) people (Gen Y and Gen Z) are entering the field. Eventually, we’ll age out.

    Maybe technology is replacing the real estate agent.

    • Matthew Ferrara
      Matthew Ferrara says:

      Hey Ken — appreciate your comment. Actually, the average age of the buyer/seller is moving UP in the last five years. That trend should continue for quite some time, as structural issues in the economy – such as unemployment, wage stagnation and college tuition debt keep younger buyers under 1/3 of the market pretty much into the next decade. The average buyer was 44, seller 47, I think in last year’s NAR report (off top of head). So, having said that, it’s not a generational thing, really. ALL generations want their doctors, lawyers, mechanics and yes, real estate agents, to use technology to get the job done. And without a doubt, that means embracing social media and texting as well.

      You’re also right about younger people NOT getting into the field, too. We should really worry – the number of under-30s has HALVED in the last five years. Many reasons can be cited, but perhaps one reason is that young people might not see the real estate profession as one that embraces and leverages technology – and when it does, only with great reluctance and resistance. I’d say that’s not the winning formula for attracting the bright and energetic minds of Gen Y!


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