The More Things Change, The More They #staythesame

By John Davis, Paul Davis Automation

In the October 2016 issue of Agency Sales, Charles Cohon — MANA CEO — provided an excerpt from MANA’s Executive Secretary, P. Edwin Thomas (MANA Minute — “MANA Featured in Billboard Magazine”). I am glad that Charley quoted Mr. Thomas for two reasons: (a) I learned a new word (multifarious), and (b) I felt a connection to my rep brethren of the past in that I — and I think it is safe to say that many, if not all of us — share the same concerns that Mr. Thomas cited in his essay. The international role and responsibility of the United States, the balance of tax and standard of living, and the utility of independent manufacturer’s representatives in the control of sales costs — all of these are concerns that absolutely resonate today.

This same excerpt from Mr. Thomas was discussed at our October Board Meeting in the context of getting ready for our strategic planning sessions in 2017. One of our primary duties as a Board is to ensure that we deliver significant value to both our rep and manufacturer members. This value comes in many forms — all of which lose relevance if we are not in tune with the concerns shared by our members. These sessions set the tone and direction of MANA for years to come, and if we are out of touch, well, bad things happen.

A common concern of many of our members is the Millennial generation. As an early Millennial (1984), I am in an interesting position as, although I can certainly identify with my generation (#ogmillenial), I am strongly influenced by the values and worldview of Generation X and even the Boomers. To put it another way, although I am young enough to remember Napster, and spent most (not all) of my youth in the presence of Web 1.0, I still have absolutely no clue when it comes to Snapchat.

The average age of the MANA membership follows a standard distribution bell curve that peaks around 45 years of age. The average age of the Board trends towards the right side of the distribution. Understandably, I can see why there is significant interest in us “digital natives” — and I will be the first to admit that my generation is, well, odd. Having been shaped heavily by one of the most profound inventions of humankind — the Internet — from an outside perspective, we behave, think, consume, communicate, and do business far differently from our generational elders.

All of this is for better — or for worse — depending on your perspective.

A recent piece of research from Goldman-Sachs illustrates the trends that define the Millennial generation (search for “goldman sachs millennials” to find the infographic). Many of the statistics are interesting (I did not know that my generation is larger than even the Baby Boomers), but the excerpt that most caught my eye was the following:

“(Millennials are) … also the first generation of digital natives, and their affinity for technology helps shape how they shop. They are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information and peer reviews.”

This is absolutely true — in many ways, we are the generation — and this behavior is going to strongly influence the rep/customer dynamic as Millennials continue to age and move up the ladder into managerial positions on both sides of the fence. I can say with confidence that many of us are already experiencing the change resulting from this mindset.

Although the challenges are a bit different, MANA today is just as concerned about the impact of broad societal changes on the health and well-being of manufacturers’ representatives and the companies they represent. There is still a lot of work to be done and mutual understanding to be found, but rest assured, helping our members navigate this tremendous generational shift is a central piece of MANA’s strategic planning and thinking moving forward. Active discussion and research is being done via a number of special interest groups headed by MANA VP and General Manager Jerry Leth — the results of which will be shared with our members and used in our planning moving forward.

All that said, I can tell you that as a Millennial business owner, I share many of the same concerns as Mr. Thomas. Our generations may be decades apart, but our common experience as reps hasn’t changed all that much. I would love to hear about your generational experiences in the rep business — feel free to drop me an e-mail, text, Tweet, or Facebook message anytime.

On second thought, just pick up the phone and give me a call.

John Davis has two professional passions — engineering new software and hardware products and having the privilege of being the second-generation owner of his family’s rep business, Paul Davis Automation. Both keep him busy during the cold Cleveland winters. When not at work or spending time with his family, he can be found at the local airport.