Gary Mandelbaum of Karman, a clothing manufacturer in Denver, knew he had to install an electronic-ordering system. His sales staff was shipping handwritten orders, and mistakes were costing him customers. But because his industry is traditionally anticomputer, Mandelbaum moved carefully and slowly to ease his sales reps into the information age.
Instead of thrusting the software at the entire sales force, Mandelbaum selected three reps for a brief pilot program. To put the software in its best light, he made sure that at least one of those reps had a fair amount of computer know-how. And to build credibility among the most computer-shy of the sales force, he tapped two computer novices to be the other two pilot reps.
The three pilot reps were trained for one week before they set out with their laptops for a high-pressure field test. And all three returned with glowing reports for the other reps. According to Mandelbaum, the strategy was to let the employees "sell one another" rather than relying on management.
The rest of the sales force was quickly equipped with laptops and given four days of training. Mandelbaum outlines the process: "First, we told them only what they needed to know to get their basic functions accomplished to write an order. When they were ready for more, we taught them how to get in and out of the system." The sales force was then turned loose in the field for a sink-or-swim rollout. "We couldn't have gone through another season the old way and survived," he says. Not only did the reps survive, they prospered. Any resistance quickly evaporated.