“I’ve sat through the same sales meeting since June 20, 1985.”

When our client, the executive vice president of a large commercial bank, dropped this statement, it got me thinking. How many communication norms from 30 or 40 years ago are still in place today simply because no one recognizes how profoundly things have changed?

People are still running the same meetings and handling their personal lives in much the way they were three decades ago, despite the fact that a little invention called the internet changed the flow of information forever.

Information at your fingertips before a business or social interaction can be an advantage when leveraged correctly.

Take first dates, for example. People may lament a dating world of snap judgments based on surface information. But if you’re looking for an actual relationship, the treasure trove of information on the internet can make you more charming than you ever dreamed.

First dates used to be filled with generic surface questions and awkward silences. Not good at witty repartee? Your love life may be doomed. Now, thanks to the internet, if you do a little homework, you can be a great dater. Don’t ask traditional questions like “Where are you from?” Start your conversation by asking about their favorite song if you noticed their Spotify is connected to their Tinder profile.

Leveraging your access to information to develop personalized, thought-provoking questions puts you on the fast track to emotional intimacy.

The same is true in sales.

A few decades ago, someone got the bright idea that salespeople should ask questions about the customers’ business before they started pitching products. A plethora of sales training programs emerged to teach salespeople how to uncover their customers’ goals.

The question of “What keeps you awake at night?” became a mantra for customer-focused sales people.

The concept (know your customer) is still spot on. But the access to information has changed.

Once-coveted information has become accessible in the palm of your hand.

Buyers can vet products, companies and even individual salespeople online. And conversely, sellers can find out information on their buyers’ lives and businesses online.

Early conversations in sales, dating, job interviews and even health care are no longer about exchanging basic information because both parties have (or should have) done their homework.

Instead of “What keeps you awake at night?” sellers have the opportunity to ask things like, “I read in your annual report you’re focused on gaining market share. How is customer intelligence fueling that initiative?” or “I saw on LinkedIn you follow some innovation labs. How is the industrywide push to innovate impacting your role?”

If you’re still using sales training (or dating techniques) from the 1980s, you can do better.

The internet is constant in our lives, like running water, and a Starbucks on every corner. Yet we often fail to recognize the profound sociological shift this communication medium created.

In some ways, everything has changed. But at our core, humans still want to belong, and they still want you to care. The internet is your tool to make that happen faster than ever before.

– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information, visit McLeodandMore.com.


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