Representor Summer 2020 - From the Top

‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’

by Chuck Tanzola, CPMR
The Fusion Sourcing Group Inc.
ERA President

In the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy says to her dog at one point, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It’s a phrase that has come to mean that we have stepped outside of what is considered normal; we have entered a place or circumstance that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable; we have found ourselves in a strange situation. “Outside of normal, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, strange …” — sounds like life in 2020 where many are relegated to their basement and talking to their dogs, or having their cats walk across their keyboard as Bryan Teen, CPMR, president of Tech Marketing, pointed out on a recent ERA Water Cooler video call … but I digress.

Unlike in the movie, however, we cannot close our eyes, click our heels three times, think, “there’s no place like home,” and return to the normal, familiar and comfortable.

As I consider what we are facing with respect to COVID-19, I think about three distinct periods, which I’ve labeled Survival, Searching and Stability. (I was going to call them phases but it seems like the states have dominated that terminology, so I will purposely avoid it.)

Period 1 – Survival | The Pandemic Outbreak

In this first period, as the reality of an accelerating pandemic materialized, our survival instincts kicked in and we focused on health, safety and well-being; but also on implementing disaster mitigation plans; re-adjusting our immediate activities; and spending a lot of time telling ourselves (and anyone who would listen) that everything would be okay and we’ll get through it, while wondering privately, “Will it really be okay?” (You might also call it the “OMG” phase). Of course, individual experiences shape our outlook, so while this might not be universally true, for the most part, I think we are well through this phase and thinking about what comes next.

Period 2 – Searching | Looking to Reopen

So, what does come next? As I write this column, we are seeing many businesses searching for how to reopen under varied, changing and often confusing government rules, regulations and executive orders coupled with the companies’ own internal guidelines and convictions. In this period of searching, for some, the goal is to see a path to return to the familiar. For others, learning from our time of mass isolation mandates a vision of change. The natural tension created by this dichotomy of views compounds feelings of uncertainty. This is where I feel we are today.

Period 3 – Stability | Beyond COVID-19 (BC19)

If today we are searching, then tomorrow we will move toward a new equilibrium beyond COVID-19. I have named that period “stability.” When that will be seems to be a moving target, but I have no doubt that a) it will happen; and b) it will encompass a combination of the best of the familiar enhanced with lessons learned during this pandemic; and c) by definition it will be different.

As we consider what stability will look like and how we get there, it would be nice to be able to peek behind the curtain to ask the great and powerful Oz. Naturally, we cannot, but perhaps it would be instructive to apply some principles from another wizard to our industry.

Over his 27 year career, John Wooden, nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood,” coached the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team to 620 victories (including one winning streak of 88 straight games) and a record-setting 10 national titles in 12 years (with an unprecedented and likely never repeated seven consecutive championships). Coach John Wooden taught the world that integrity and character are the cornerstones of success. Three of the maxims that Wooden taught within his Pyramid of Success are as follows.

Be true to yourself. Given the pressure to “change something” in the midst of disruption, it is paramount to know and promote your value proposition — not trying to become something you are not but enhancing that which you are.

The unique combination of characteristics which a manufacturers’ representative brings to the industry — local knowledge and flavor, synergy of non-competitive offerings, developed trusted advisor relationships — has inherent value to customers, manufacturers and channel partners, and transcends the capability of video conferencing to replicate it (no matter how many “Hollywood Squares” you have).

The specific combination of goods and services that each manufacturer offers to the market base makes your company distinct. Focus on your core competencies and amplify your distinctives. Does anyone really believe that it is in an automaker’s long-term strategic interest to produce ventilators?

Providing a channel for distributing products to the marketplace and the myriad of services and complexities associated with that function are best served by those well equipped to do so.

Fundamentally, being true to yourself is about maintaining the essence of an entity.

Flexibility is the key to stability. Flexibility is about adapting to changing conditions and circumstances. In the realm of coaching basketball, it is about adjusting the game plan as needs dictate. It doesn’t change the characteristics of the team and its members, but rather applies those members in different ways. I am truly in awe of the creative adaptation that I have seen (usually on a video conference) in the industry during this time.

Be at your best when your best is needed. This is the top of Coach Wooden’s pyramid and it serves as a daily call to action. Getting through the pandemic will take our brains, no doubt, some courage, and a lot of heart. The collective best in all of us is needed and will make us stronger as we travel through this time together!

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback and can be reached at

P.S. Don’t forget to mark down Feb. 28 – March 2, 2021, on your calendar for next year’s ERA Conference. I hope to see you in Austin!