The value of a rolodex

I find it amusing that the word “rolodex” is still in the lexicon.  I don’t know of any professional salesperson that I work with that still uses one of these devices.  Yet, they still sell these things!  Who is buying them?  Are there salespeople who store their most valuable information source on handwritten cards on their desk?

With Outlook,, pipelinedeals, highrise, or any of the other fantastic digital products that exist in managing and keeping on top of contacts, would anybody really still use a physical rolodex?  Rolodex has never released, to my knowledge, a successful digital product.

Yet… it’s still the word we use to talk about your contacts, your connections.  And somehow everyone knows what we mean when we talk about your “rolodex” even though most people under 30 (and most under 40)  have never even seen one.

Which brings me to my real question.  If you are hiring a salesperson, what is the value of their rolodex?  How much emphasis should you place on who they know in particular companies.

It’s probably blasphemous to say this, but I believe that in most cases, the idea that the contacts locked up inside of Outlook are of major value in finding a salesperson is mostly false.  Why?  Because, given the fluid nature of business these days, I can tell you that the contact information they have in their rolodex is probably mostly outdated anyway.  I’m not challenging the idea of finding someone with a broad network – only relying on the rolodex of a person to immediately affect sales in particular companies

When people stayed at their jobs for 50 years, having connections inside a particular company had value.  Today, people move around so much, its unlikely that that exec I know at company A will be there long – or his power may quickly shift.  Add to that, Hoovers and Jigsaw and other tools have made the organization transparent.  And tools like LinkedIn, and Plaxo, and Naymz have all broken down the walls of knowing who the decision makers are – and have WAY better and more current information than is trapped inside a person’s “rolodex.”  The value of knowing people in companies, and building that long term trust within that company is certainly less valuable.  Budgets and initiatives are squeezed and you may know the CEO of company A, but that will less often lead to a sale than it may have in the past.

I am certainly not suggesting that there is NO value to a person’s network.  But here is where the shift is now.  It is less important to me that you have contacts at companies A, B, and C that I think is going to get me a sale.  What I want to see if a person that understands the value of networking and has done a good job of it.  What is the reach of your network?  How have you used it – and how will you continue to use it.

When evaluating a salesperson, I want someone that knows the sales process.  How to get the sale done.  This, to me, is of far greater importance than the people they know at a particular company.  In my career, I’ve sold into several industries: aerospace, high tech, insurance, trucking, fashion, venture capital, entertainment, utilities, banking, direct marketing, and more.  In almost EVERY situation, I’ve had to start without a pre-filled set of contacts to call – yet I was successful in beating into every industry.  Why? Because the focus was always on the sales process:  finding the right solution for the customer and communicating it.  Understanding the way to determine and traverse an org chart (using the digital tools mentioned above).

And… using my “rolodex” of people to get into those organizations when needed.  Yes, my contacts were almost always part of the equation.

But, if sales is building a big fire, then your network is simply the kindling these days.  Its up to you to stoke the fire and make it burn.  And… when no kindling is available – you still have to make the fire – and its THOSE people – the ones that can make a fire WITHOUT kindling that I want on my team – because with the fast moving executives, you will probably find more situations without kindling than with.

So – as you evaluate the salesperson you are about to hire, indeed check her network, ask about sales she has made, how she has done it.  What networking groups and meetups she attends, and indeed ask about how her network will help you get sales faster.  But don’t think that finding someone with a plastic contraption with names and numbers on it is going to solve your sales challenges.

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