The Cone of Silence.

The topic of this week's Drift changed when I was contacted by Digiday reporter Ricardo Bilton about the article he was writing about phone-phobic salespeople. I was happy to comment for the piece, but I also think there's a bigger theme in play. If you're a young seller, or someone who manages one, this Drift's for you.

Do younger sellers tend to be phone-averse? Oh yeah. Somehow engaging with customers directly in a two-way, voice conversation is seen as rude, disruptive and overbearing. Maybe it's a millennial thing, maybe not. But we've nonetheless come to embrace the asynchronous, polite, wait-your-turn-and-wait-for-a-reply ethos of email and text. It's about fear of discomfort; feeling it or causing it.

And it doesn't just impact buyer-seller relationships (the focus of Ricardo's article). You see it within the home office environment too. I visit client companies all the time and watch as rows and rows of young workers, sitting only inches apart, send one another email after email, never thinking to stop the madness and have a clarifying conversation.

As a manager, you've got two concerns here. First, your people end up engaged in long, ponderous email strings over issues better resolved by intimate, immediate conversation. The clarifying question you can and should ask (in person) is "Did you talk about this face-to-face?" Ask it frequently enough and it becomes a mandate, then a habit.

Your second problem is that your salespeople are over-reliant on an email mindset that's working against them. It's not that email doesn't work. It just doesn't work the way the way they're using it: in a vacuum and badly. Knowing that it takes between 9 and 12 attempts to elicit a response from an unknown customer, your reps should be thinking of their communication as a campaign. An email about one topic, followed by a well-planned voice mail, followed by another email introducing more information, followed by a Linked In in-mail. And then there's the "don't be a meathead" rule. When you do send email, avoid the "Poison Pills" and stop writing so much at one time: What fits on the screen of an iPhone is about right.

And while you're at it, pick up the phone. It's good for your relationship with your mom, with your co-workers and with your customers.