Telecommuting: Not Being There
When one of August Fromuth's top salespeople announced his intentions to move to a distant part of the country, he added that he wanted to keep the territory he'd cultivated for two years. Fromuth, CEO of AGF Direct Gas Sales, in Manchester, N.H., gave Salesman X (who prefers to remain nameless) six months to show uninterrupted sales effectiveness. "Customers want to buy from a local rep," Fromuth warned X.
Three years later, Salesman X still lives afar, is still among AGF's top performers, and still has the wool over his customers' eyes. How does X maintain his salesman-next-door image? He relies on a Pentium laptop with a 28.8-baud internal fax modem and 16 megabytes of RAM, a fax-receiving unit, several phone lines, voice mail, and a cellular phone. The fax-receiving unit, a Fax Friday made by Bogen, in Ramsey, N.J., pages X when a fax comes in. He downloads the fax by connecting the Fax Friday to his computer, which he has programmed so it types a phone number from his territory on all his outgoing faxes. The physical location of his phones is similarly camouflaged. For a $12 monthly service fee, his local phone company forwards all calls placed to his remote phone numbers to an 800 number, which then routes them to his office, cellular phone, or vacation spot.
X logs into on-line services and phones news stations' update lines to keep on top of the weather, sports, and news in his territory. "Weather is the most important," he says. "Selling natural gas, I need to know about a cold front up there when it's 80 degrees here."* * *