Just a while ago we said, "Computers are here!'' and told one another that soon the supply of paper would outstrip demand in a brave new digital world. The opposite has occurred - for with computerization, more and different kinds of paper have resulted. Now, the Internet is here - does this mean the death of the salesperson? Rather, I believe the sales function will be modified and that demand will only increase for the professional, results-oriented salesperson.

Banks have rushed to embrace the Internet with open arms, like a lot of other companies. Is it because the Internet will work magic for the bottom-line results? Or is it fear of missing the boat? Time will tell. For right now, the sales process retains its four essential steps: making the appointment, making the sales call, asking for the business, and closing.

Let us not confuse "what the market demands" and what we thrust down the market's throat. Just because the Internet is efficient or cost-effective for us does not necessarily mean that customers and prospects want to do or give business online. Comfort level, fine-tuning of technology, and overall trust will all play a part. A good place to capitalize on Internet technology would be process-driven departments, where 100% accuracy is necessary, such as wires. When it comes to sales - especially to small businesses where many factors contribute to the consummation of the sale - the Internet and every "what's-next" technology can contribute to the efficiency of the process, but cannot replace sales savvy.

Consider the products and services we typically offer to business owners: checking accounts, lines of credit, cash management and trust products, and so on. Each has some degree of variation and is somehow aligned to relationship pricing. It is simply wishful thinking that the Internet will solve all our sales issues and enable us to double, triple, and quadruple our sales with minimal input and maximum efficiency. What is true is this: The paradigms have shifted, and the days of traditional banking are gone forever. We have been forced to expand our perceptions of what will be demanded of banks in the new century.

Regardless of the final form a particular delivery system may take, or the technology that enables us to enter new markets, we must recognize that it is sales in its purest form that drives our organizations. Internet or no Internet, there will always be a point of contact between customer and consultant. It is this specific event that establishes the relationships that will later enable us to leverage the advances we have made in technology, in systems of delivery and in product offerings.

Humanizing the online sales process is important and will contribute handsomely to those who adapt - with increased customer loyalty and enhanced customer online experience. Reinventing the sales environment and staying just ahead of the times will differentiate the ultimate winners and losers. For example, negotiation and getting the commitment in the small-business environment will continue at a face-to-face level. For initial credit approval, however, s why s pick up or drop off documents when they could easily be e-mailed?

Wherever banking products are mere commodities and people are less of a differentiating factor, the Internet will be the most profitable and efficient channel for selling. It gives salespeople access to the latest product and pricing information, helps to shorten the sales cycle, leads to less money being left on the table, and facilitates quicker cross-selling.

Combined with sales, extraordinary service is the path of sure success and this is where use of the Internet excels - many routine questions can be answered over the Net rather than in a costly phone tag process. One New York brokerage is aligning with AskJeeves.com a leading provider of question-answering services for consumers and companies on the Web so that customers can make well-informed decisions online.

If we always do what we always did, we will always get what we always got - and less! So align your bank with Internet technology and customize the sales process within your organization to reach a more profitable level. As we reshape our institutions, there are a few pillars that will stand unchanged, but these few are vital to the support of the innovations and developments that will mark the future. We must sell to our customers, we must understand our customers, and we must be willing to set aside the comforts of tradition to meet the demands of the future. Mr. Madan is founder and president of Madan Group, an international sales training and sales consulting company based in Jacksonville, Fla.

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