The following was reported in "It's A Real Beautiful Sales Tool," Think, January 1971, pp. 6-7.
It used to work this way before IBM's involvement: A truck owner would call an International Harvester (IH) salesman. "I need a truck -- fast," he'd say, and give the specifications -- specs so variable that the possible combinations run into the hundreds of thousands. The IH salesman would turn to a four-inch-thick computer printout listing what trucks were available and where. Just a single copy of the printout had to support 75 salesmen in the district. In addition, the printout -- which was mailed monthly -- was often outdated and always laborious to use.
Frequently, a match couldn't be found and a new search had to be made for a truck with slightly different specs. "Sometimes," admits Robert J. Ratliff, manager of fleet sales in International Harvester's New York district office," a salesman would order a truck from the factory and later learn there were similar trucks already assembled and ready to roll. We just didn't know where they were. Our system failed more often than it worked."
But now, thanks to IBM technology in late 1970, it works this way: A truck owner calls an International Harvester salesman. The owner's truck has been wrecked and he needs a replacement vehicle immediately. The IH salesman dashes to the prospect's office with a carrying case that he places on the truck owner's desk. Inside: a new IBM 2721 portable audio terminal.
The salesman places the prospect's telephone receiver in a special cradle on the 2721 and dials the IH Motor Truck Division's computer complex in Fort Wayne, Ind. He hears a signal and keys in numerical and alphabetical data describing the specifications desired by the prospect. Instantly, by voice, the terminal reports the closest combination available and its location. The customer is impressed; so impressed, in fact, he buys two trucks
Renting for $20 a month, the IBM 2721 permits IBM customers whose computershave audio response capability to interrogate their computers from any standard telephone. The 2721, announced in January 1970, is the first IBM audio response system using the portable terminals, and was designed to help salesmen sell.
Initially, International Harvester evaluated the 2721 in a pilot program using 15 terminals in the New York district to communicate with two IBM System/360 Model 65 computers via six telephone lines. Now International Harvester salesmen are deploying 400 terminals, with some 970 units scheduled for delivery to the truck division. Employing IH's AUDRE (audio response) system, the 2721 terminals speak in a woman's voice and draw on a vocabulary of 128 words and numbers.
How has the 2721 with AUDRE been doing? Well, in one recent head-to-head situation, International Harvester was competing for the sale of 10 trucks contingent on a two-week delivery. AUDRE quickly found the trucks and IH won the business. Another time AUDRE located two trucks for an IH dealer whose competitors could offer similar types. The dealer clinched the sale by finding the trucks faster and offering earlier delivery than his competitors.
These successes were not unusual. During the pilot evaluation of AUDRE, IH determined that 50 out of 78 truck sales in the district would not have been made had it not been for the IBM audio response system. Put another way, AUDRE enables IH to meet customer requests 87 percent of the time compared to 10 percent of the time before AUDRE.
Says International Harvester's Ratliff: "This is the only data processing system in my 15 years in sales that has totally benefited our salesmen. It's a real beautiful sales tool."