And perhaps the rep …
by Chuck Tanzola
Our industry is experiencing an ongoing period of accelerating change, disruptive sales technologies and volatile events that have led some over time to diminish the essence, value and distinctive character of
Certain dates in our history stand out for their collective significance: Nov. 19, 1863 (Somewhat more than four score and seven years ago, but greatly noted and long remembered for a 270 word speech delivered on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg.); Dec. 7, 1941 (“… A day that shall live in infamy …”); Aug. 28, 1963 (“I have a dream …”); July 20, 1969 (“… One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind …”); and of course, Sept. 11, 2001 … (Do you remember where you were when …?)
Other dates are personally significant; but likely not as universally remembered. For example, do you recall Nov. 10, 1977? Maybe not. But I do. I remember sitting in the audience, a wide-eyed and impressionable freshman, listening to Frank HT Rhodes inaugural address, entitled, “… And Perhaps Cornell” as he was installed as the ninth president of Cornell University.
I remember Rhodes recalling a story from Cornell historian Morris Bishop; who detailed a critical review of American Higher Education by a foreign author who “claimed that only a few American institutions were places of any great distinction.” The only “typical American colleges,” the author concluded, were “Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and perhaps Cornell.” Bishop continued, “Had he sought pure examples of the great popular American university, […], he would have mentioned Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and California. And perhaps Cornell.” Bishop lamented, “Perhaps Cornell! It has always been the fate of our University to be Perhaps Cornell!”
Rhodes went on to state, “… I wonder if those words haunt you as they haunt me. Perhaps Cornell. Perhaps Cornell. And they haunt me not as … judgment of our past but as a challenge and a hope for our future.”
I wonder, in a critical review of the electronics industry if some foreign author might say, “Companies that excel in reaching their customers going forward will do so through the extensive use of SEO and social media; global distribution strategies; artificial intelligence; and perhaps a network of manufacturers’ reps.”
He might continue, “The best market information is found in the big data contained in end to end CRM systems; collected through responsive web sites; monitored in sophisticated lead scoring systems; and perhaps from manufacturers’ reps.”
Perhaps the rep! Is it the fate of our profession to be “Perhaps the rep!”? Our industry is experiencing an ongoing period of accelerating change, disruptive sales technologies and volatile events that have led some over time to diminish the essence, value and distinctive character of the rep. Do these words haunt you as they haunt me?
Perhaps the rep! Should we allow a rapidly changing market to relegate us to accept an industry position of, “Perhaps the Rep”? Or should we take this as an exhortation to embrace changes; responding to the challenges they represent head on. I think the latter.
Perhaps the Rep! Should we shy away from new technologies that threaten to subject us to a long term position of, “Perhaps the Rep!”? Or should we develop a kinship and expertise with these technologies – eliminating any suspicion they could adequately render the role of the rep as secondary. I think the latter.
Perhaps the Rep! Should we allow industry volatility to subject us to always be, “Perhaps the Rep!”? Or is this a time for “Carpe Diem”, seizing the day and the opportunity inherent in the disruptive changes in our industry? I think the latter.
Trusted colleague, fellow rep, chair of the 2020 ERA Conference, and friend Mike Swenson, was recently quoted:
“This year’s conference theme, ‘Takin’ it to the Streets: Succeeding in a Dynamic Market,’ is a metaphor for the core value of ERA and the field-level (street) activities that manufacturers’ representatives are engaged in with customers, distributors and manufacturers to win business, deliver value and produce results.”
Whether you are in attendance as part of what will be a sold out conference or not (and I hope you are); my challenge to every member of the rep community and our Association is the same – take it to the streets; defend our historical value; and demonstrate our ongoing relevance through our performance.
As we do that collectively, my hope is present and future observers will note, “The differentiating factor in the level of sales success for any company is their manufacturers’ rep network … and perhaps their social media proficiency, innovative marketing campaigns and use of big data analytics.”
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and welcome your comments and feedback. I look forward to seeing you in Austin, if not sooner.