When traveling cross-country by car I like to stop for meals (particularly breakfast) at Cracker Barrel restaurants. I like the food, the service is fast and the price is right. But I also enjoy the d?cor of the restaurants. Adorning the walls are all sorts of reminders of yesteryear: old signs and advertisements, odd tools and equipment no longer in use, and samples of products no longer sold but once very popular. It is a touch of nostalgia that reminds us of how tough life used to be and how much we have progressed.

Recently, at a stop at the Cracker Barrel in Kingman, Arizona, the d?cor brought back a few memories. On the wall was a hand-operated wringer for removing excess water from clothes after being washed. I remember it well from my childhood. The tool was hard to operate, but it did work and helped clothes to dry faster on the clothesline.

There was also a crosscut saw. I did not use one very much–but I do remember the blisters on my hand that resulted from its use. A carpet beater hanging on the wall was more familiar. We used to put the rugs on the clothesline and then beat the h— out of them with the carpet beater. This always raised a cloud of dust, most of which settled in your sinus, thereby, raising Cain with your allergies. But it did clean the rug and air it at the same time.

Perhaps the tool displayed that I recall least fondly was a hand sickle for cutting weeds in the yard and garden. Bending over to use it was hard on the back and it took a lot of time to complete the job.

There were other tools and contraptions on the wall that pre-dated my memory, so I only could speculate as to their use. But the good news is we don’t use any of these gadgets anymore–thank goodness. The washer and dryer have lessened the elbow grease needed to wash and dry the laundry. A weed eater makes easier the work of clearing out unwanted grass and weeds in the garden, and the chain saw makes short work of jobs formerly done by the crosscut saw and with no blisters.

Vacuum cleaners of all kinds have eliminated the spring and fall ritual of beating the dust out of carpets. The dust and dirt is disposed of in a sanitary way and our allergies are spared.

It is important to recognize that all of these chores still are being performed. We still wash and dry clothes, cut weeds, saw logs, and clean carpets. The only thing that has changed is the way we do it. This epitomizes Will Durant’s admonition that “much of what is called change is simply new ways of doing old things.”

In much the same way our business has, over the years, undergone its own metamorphosis and we often hear the cry that “the whole world has changed.” However, in most instances what has changed is simply the new way we do old things. One of the great strengths of the agency system has been its ability to adapt in a changing environment and find new and better ways of doing the basic things that our business requires.

Some people fail in our business because they forget that technology does not relieve them of doing the “old things,” such as prospecting, motivating people, closing the sale and servicing in-force policies. Technology is important–but it is essentially a new way of doing old things.

During World War II when gas rationing was in effect and you were limited to just a few gallons a week, an agent could not afford to ride around town looking for prospects or servicing accounts. But agents adapted and started using the telephone (formerly a no-no) to prospect. And for many years afterward the telephone was a useful tool. But alas, like the hand-operated clothes wringer, it fell into disuse. Massive telemarketing by other organizations, travel agents, mortgage companies and credit card purveyors, to name a few, turned a good thing into a nuisance. The final blow was the creation of the do-not-call list, which forbids unsolicited calls to those included on the list.

With the telephone consigned to the walls of a Cracker Barrel restaurant we have to look to new ways to find prospects. Making cold calls is not a happy prospect and gated communities and high-rise condos are impediments. In my 50-year career I only can recall one agent whose first choice among prospecting methods was the cold call–and he was very good at it. So, it is an option.

However, by far the most practical and effective option is the use of referred leads. What better place to prospect than among satisfied customers. Perfecting this tool is, in my view, the pathway to professionalism and selling at its best. True, it is not a new idea–but it is a method that too many salespeople ignored or were clumsy at executing.

Computers and other forms of technology are wonderful–but they do not eliminate the “old things” and the interpersonal relationships so vital to success in our business.