The PEMBAway: What The Mirror Said Back

As part of our ongoing PEMBAway discussion, we revisit where we’ve come from and why we’re here. (No, not in a metaphysical sense…) Here’s the story of what happened here at PEMBA after a frank conversation with The Man In The Mirror. This one goes out to all of the hard-working #OIBIZ sales reps. Enjoy…

It’s a sad little secret of our existence, but we sales reps are paid to waste our lives. Nobody ever wants to mention – also – that our businesses are tremendously inefficient.

We’re not supposed to tell anybody either of these things. It’s in the Universal Rep Manual and everything.

Or maybe it’s in the Rep Code. I forget which.

(Somewhere from a darkened showroom in the Northwest, ninjas have been dispatched to kill me in my sleep and make it look natural…)

The sad reality is that most sales reps are – most of the time –working really hard doing absolutely necessary work that doesn’t pay the bills. We’re managing samples, balancing our books, working on reports, or (most, most often) in transition traveling from one place to another.

Your sales rep isn’t available to take your call? They’re probably loading/unloading the van.

Reps are always loading/unloading the van.

It’s true.

So when do sales reps perform actual sales and service duties? Most of the time, sales reps are preparing to do these things, reporting on doing these things, and/or traveling to do these things. Relative to doing the things that we’re actually paid to do – sales and service – there’s a LOT of non-productive time. And during this non-productive time, reps aren’t home, aren’t playing, and we aren’t really living. Mostly, we’re waiting for the moment when we can either live or work, and we spend a lot of time in this space in between.

That’s the “wasting our lives” part, this space in between. This time is most often spent in hotels, airports, or behind the wheel of our own cars.

I’ve written before about the skill-sets required of #OIBIZ reps. I’ve said that we’re as rare as wild tigers, and if anything this has only become more true. Think about it: We reps have to be as credible in the field, in the water, or on the crag or the slopes with the kids on the shop floor as we are hanging out in the boardroom with the CEO. We have to be willing to work really hard for an indeterminate return. There just aren’t a lot of us who have all of this in one package. So, whether we’re special or just stupid, we’re that rare.

Last time we talked about the PEMBAway, I wrote about a conversation with my boss, the Man in the Mirror. I told him that I was burnt out, that I couldn’t work so hard anymore, and that something had to give because: A) I wasn’t getting it done; and B) I wasn’t happy. I was working too hard for too little return, and my life – time with my kids, my wife, myself – was slipping by as I drove down I-80, or waited in line at the TSA, or was loading/unloading the van as my phone went unanswered.

This conversation – in and of itself – isn’t unique. Most of you reading this have had it, or will, or should. And if you’ve already had it, it doesn’t hurt to have it again. So it’s fairly common, or it should be. No, that’s not the unique part.

What happened next – with me, with us – is fairly unique. The Mirror talked back, and this is what it told me:

Since sales reps are wild tigers – lone wolves, lonesome cowboys, easy-riders, teens with bad acne, whatever metaphor we put upon ourselves to say “we go it alone” – most of the time when we go to clone ourselves we look for people just like us. And we hire them to do the exact same thing that we do, in the exact same way.

You know: Out there, alone, managing samples, paying bills, traveling, and (when time allows) selling stuff and servicing customers. Just like us.

Reps divide up territories using one of several methods: By geography – “You take Illinois and I’ll take Wisconsin”; by distribution channel – “I’ll do outdoor, and you do bike shops”; or by account category “I’m keeping the A accounts, and you develop the B and C accounts.”

And then later, after reps find themselves muttering in the mirror because they’ve worked themselves into a state close-to-burnout again, the process repeats. And repeats, and repeats, and repeats.

When we divide our territories into identical, individual silos what we really do is multiply our inherent inefficiencies, and we also multiply the risks. Further, we commit ourselves to doing the work the same way that we have always done. There’s no space to try to do things better, new, or different. Everyone works as hard as they can just to do the bare minimum of the job requirement until they can’t do it anymore. Then we hire somebody else to do the exact same thing, again.

Consider the questions:

  • The whole team is at a sales meeting? Who is answering the phone, or – for that matter – making calls?
  • Everybody in the agency is packing their van? How many sample sets is that, and how much does that cost?
  • Each person in the outfit is either staring at their windshield, or is negotiating an airport? Who is at their desk filling out reports, making projections, paying bills, planning, or building/maintaining systems? Does anybody have time to develop anything new?
  • And, last but perhaps most importantly: Where do you find another (and another, and another) wild tiger? Aren’t you rare enough? And what happens when you manage to find another wild tiger and they’ve serviced Nebraska for five years and then get hit by a bus?  And – hey – what happens if they decide to hit YOU with a bus to have a crack at those A accounts? I mean, it happens. We’re talking TIGERS here; they get hungry, and they kill to eat.

So, for all these reasons and more, after I heard what the Mirror said back we settled on a different way of multiplying ourselves.

We don’t divide our business here at PEMBA by geography, by distribution channel, or by account category. Rather, we divide our business by duties and job descriptions. This way, while some of us are always available to sell and to service we also have people available to answer phones, pay bills, submit reports, work on infrastructure, manage samples, or – for that matter – write blog posts.

(Hey, imagine that!)

How does all of this work? Well, tune in next time for more about the PEMBAway…

There’s so much to share.

One Response to The PEMBAway: What The Mirror Said Back

  1. Glad to hear I’m not the only one trying to solve this issue. In my field, business owners so often try to duplicate ourselves by hiring staff with similar skill sets, thinking we’ll be more profitable because more billable work will get done. All this does is create a bigger bottleneck of the tasks that none of us do well! Burnout ensues.

    In August, I took a step back (to look in the mirror) and made some decisions on flattening out our structure. Progress is slow, but it’s happening…