The Sales/Tech Rep
June 1, 2004 By Pulp & Paper Canada
He is often being paid for by the product/service you purchase from his employer, so there is no direct cost to your mill. However, he can perform many services for the mill, including troubleshooting the aspect of your process he supports, improv…
He is often being paid for by the product/service you purchase from his employer, so there is no direct cost to your mill. However, he can perform many services for the mill, including troubleshooting the aspect of your process he supports, improving your mill’s efficiency, tracking wayward shipments, supporting mill social events, assisting with the writing of technical papers and many other tasks. So this column is devoted to assisting the supplier field rep (by whatever name) make use of the valuable technology available to him.
Gone are the days when the field rep was tied to the pay phone while unravelling the latest mislaid shipment or suffered from writers cramp as he attempted to capture the nuances of his latest customer visit for the edification of his masters. Now he has a confusing array of ‘techie tools’ available to him as he attempts to perform the work previously done by three people.
Cell phones are ubiquitous and are considered essential by any field rep. They allow you to call from almost anywhere — except the long stretches of road between mills where it would be most valuable. One of the few times it is possible to use a cell phone safely while driving is on a lonely stretch of highway. Unfortunately, these are the sections where it is least likely that you will have a signal! Although there is little you can do with your existing phone, on your next renewal you may be able to improve your ability to keep a signal on the next long drive. Not all carriers are created equal nor are all cell phones the same. Check with colleagues who travel in the same areas to find the carrier with the best coverage for the areas you travel. For a cell phone, check any one of several websites that have excellent independent reviews of the cell phones available to Canada. Some sites discuss cell phone features, carriers that have them, and their performance under various conditions. The latest ‘gee-whiz’ phones with the greatest features, for example, may not have the noise discrimination to allow you to call from the noisy mill floor. Look for ability to maintain signal, durability (ability to survive a fall), and convenience features (ease of storing and accessing phone numbers). A feature I have found useful is voice-activated dialing — this allows you to speak a name and have the phone dial the number, without your intervention.
What about PDA’s — my favourite toy? There are a bewildering variety of devices available:
Enhanced pagers with email capability (e.g. Blackberry);
Palm or PocketPC devices that have more computing power than desktop computers from a few years ago;
Connected PDA’s that allow you to surf the internet wirelessly;
Cell phone combinations that have the features of both PDA’s and cell phones rolled into one.
How do you choose which is best for your work style? There are zealots for any particular style — I am one of them! The choice can be made easier, as there are some simple guidelines.
If you are not prepared to learn the new technology, you are best off to stick to a simple cell phone and your pocket planner. This is a reliable combination and easy to manage.
If you need to have access to your email on the road, wirelessly, you may want a Blackberry. This provides email availability from anywhere with a cell signal.
If you want the ability to use programs, edit Word/Excel/etc documents, store large amounts of information for immediate availability, you should consider a Palm or WinCE unit. They have many of the capabilities of a full size computer in a much smaller form factor. Reviews by numerous independent Web-based PDA sites still indicate that the favoured choice for reliability, workability and battery life is a Palm-based unit.
What business traveler feels complete without his trusty laptop computer? It is your lifeline to the office, has copies of all your documents (contracts, emails, reports, etc — anything that is not already on your Palm). Essentially, it allows you to work as if you are in your office, as long as you have power and a phone line. Although there are other alternatives available, the de facto standard for software is Windows+MS Office.
A computer is a business tool and, as such, should allow the person using it to work more effectively. The average field rep has no interest in endlessly tinkering with their computer to get it to work or learn how to coax it to perform some simple task. A computer can either be a useful tool, allowing the user to be more effective in ways undreamed of ten years ago. Or it can be a hated box, sucking up valuable hours in vain attempts to accomplish tasks that could be more easily performed on paper. Although it is up to the employee to learn to use it effectively, it is up to the employer to supply the time and resources for the employee to do this. Ultimately, the computer should be as easy to use as a car — there will always be tinkerers who want to look under the hood, but it should not be necessary to do so.
Crossing time zones, eating alone in greasy restaurants, sitting in cramped airplane seats, and away from home and family — but it is the work we love. Good luck to all the other business travelers out there!
Like all previous columns, this one was written while travelling.
Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at email@example.com
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