Breaking up with Paper: Why We Need Digital Sales Apps

Glen Coates
May 5, 2014

My first job out of college was at a games tech company. My desk had a computer on it, a stack of dirty coffee cups, and that was it. Doing my job consisted entirely of interacting with that computer; whatever I needed, it was going to be in there. I moved from Sydney to San Diego in 2008 to run the US distribution operations of an Australian eco-friendly brand. Upon arriving at LAX, the CEO told me we needed to stop in at our temporary warehouse in Torrance to pick up our old customer files. I asked why they weren't just being emailed to us, and she just laughed. An hour later we were driving down the I5 to San Diego with twenty pounds of paper in the trunk. This was just the beginning.

Breaking Up with Paper: The Story

A Rude Shock

Over the next year, I was routinely blown away by the amount of paper involved in running operations for a brand. Whether it was the fax coming in from a salesperson in the field, the checks that were being mailed in and driven over to the bank, or the order books we'd write in during show season, everywhere I turned, there was a filing cabinet where there should be a database server, a clipboard where there should be a smartphone. Dead trees everywhere I looked, which was ironic given that I was working at an eco-friendly company. Every time I asked why things were done this way, I heard something along the lines of "It's been this way for a long time. It's just how it is." I thought: screw that. We can do better. It's 2010, boarding passes are being replaced with SMS messages, cash registers are being replaced with iPads, and we're not going to be left behind.

Why oh why?

When I began work on Handshake, I didn't think much about why paper had stuck around for so long in B2B. I was focused on solving the problem, without really thinking about why the problem existed. Why had so many other industries escaped the world of faxes, order forms, and phone calls, but brands and retailers were still stuck in the dark ages? It was about the relationships. It was about seeing a familiar buyer at a convention and talking excitedly about the new products. It was about shaking hands at the end of an appointment and knowing that you had placed the right product for that store. For all of paper's inefficiencies and frustrations, it really did a great job of getting out of the way and letting you have a conversation. Try telling a joke to a buyer as you're trying to type an order into a laptop; nine times out of ten you're going to be hearing crickets. The mass-adoption of the iPhone and the iPad by the business world was the first time in history there was a way to get rid of the paper but keep the conversation going.

Things are gonna get better

And that, in short, is the journey we're on. Unshackling brands and buyers from the mountains of paper and data-entry drudgery that we'd been told we had to accept, and allowing their best people to focus on selling, educating, and providing great customer service. We started this blog to kick off the conversation about technology that is moving B2B sales, marketing, and operations from the old to the new. Tech that allows people to focus on the human tasks, leaving computers to handle the robotic tasks, by finally, after all these years, getting paper out of the way. We'd love to have you along for the ride. Come on in, the water's fine.