Life of a (Digital) Salesman

Fast Function: Sales


Who could have imagined it: UPS (“Big Brown”) an Internet company? But as e-commerce explodes — from the auctioning of memorabilia on eBay to the selling of lab supplies via Chemdex — UPS finds itself smack-dab in the middle of the dotcom revolution. And David Armstrong, 29, an electronic-commerce accounts manager at UPS, finds himself smack-dab in the middle of the company’s dotcom business. He works with UPS’s major customers in the San Francisco Bay Area. In an interview with Fast Company, he talked about life as a digital salesman.


Forget technology for a moment. What skills do you need to be an effective salesman today?

Five years ago, when I would walk into a company, I was expected to know about just one thing: transportation — how to get stuff from point A to point B. Today, I’m a consultant. I get questions from people in accounts receivable, from people in customer service. Forget shipping orders! Our customers want to know how UPS can help drive traffic to their Web site, or how we can increase the number of orders that they get. I don’t even talk about shipping rates anymore, because there are so many other things that customers are worried about.

How has technology changed your day-to-day work life?

Because there is so much information available on the Web, customers now expect me to walk in with a deep understanding of their business. So I spend a lot of time on “precall” work — going to Hoover’s Online and other Web sites to track down financial information about each company, gathering and reading news clips about each industry. My job is to help customers build better, more successful businesses. I use the Web to become a better, more successful businessman.

What specific tools do you consider mission-critical?


The standard things: a laptop, a cell-phone, a Palm PDA. I also use an internal Web-based system that allows people at UPS to view a range of information on our clients, including account histories, pricing strategies — you name it. That’s especially helpful when I’m taking over an account from another sales rep. I can see whether we’ve tried to establish a relationship with a company, or what the stumbling blocks in a certain relationship might be. UPS also has a Web site that lets me see presentations that our account executives have made to clients, or to learn more about each client’s industry. That way, I can find out what the hot topics for each client may be.

How has Internet time changed sales?

Five years ago, a customer who called me would expect me to call back within, say, 48 hours. Today, clients want a return call within 4 hours — tops. So I need immediate online access to each customer’s account information. I also need a way to transmit documents to customers right away. Without the Web, none of that would be possible.

Contact David Armstrong by email (

Sidebar: Pitch-Perfect Tools

Speed Dial


Email is essential, the Web is indispensable — but for people in sales, the phone is still the tool that matters most. The Qualcomm pdQ “smartphone,” made by Kyocera Wireless, is a great choice for smart salespeople. It combines a Palm organizer and a wireless phone. Use it to store thousands of names, to direct-dial from your address book, or to beam business cards to other Palm-like devices. It also offers email, calendar, and Web-browser functions.

The smartphone costs $500 to $800. Order it through carriers that provide voice and data service, such as AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile, and Sprint PCS, or visit Kyocera Wireless Corp. on the Web (


These days, the best salespeople do more than just sell — they think. And Mimio, from Virtual Ink Corp., helps thoughtful salespeople engage the brains of their clients. This nifty tool turns your whiteboard into a “digital meeting assistant.” After recording what you write or draw on the board, Mimio creates a document that can be emailed, posted on the Web, or projected onto a screen. We’re sold!

Mimio retails for $499. Look for it at most office or electronics stores, or find out more about Mimio on the Web (


Smart Sites for Sales

Few companies have the resources that enabled ups to build its Web-based sales systems. Our advice: Make cold calls to these hot sites. Help with syncing customer information between your Palm PDA, your email address book, and the contact manager on your desktop computer. also provides online access to presentations and other documents, so you can easily share material with clients or colleagues from a distance. Standard sales-oriented fare. But has one special feature: It helps you monitor industry news and account activity. Good tools for networking and chat, as well as travel services for on-the-go salespeople. At, you can also buy gifts for clients, or check out restaurants that are suitable for entertaining customers. You’ll never visit a hotel business center again.

advertisement Real-time meetings via the Web — a great way to compare notes with your colleagues.

Update: and are now part of Siebel Systems’ CRM OnDemand offerings. Siebel continues to provide support to former UpShot customers. (Feb. 18, 2004)