How Is a 20th-Century Cabinet Maker Like Today’s Salesperson?

By Rick McPartlin

It is 1912 and you are a young journeyman cabinet maker. You live in a beautiful home that displays your skill and position. You have help to run your home and a group of apprentices who work for you.

The economy is good with lots of business growth and new opportunities, and the unemployment rate is only 4.3 percent. Things are good — and all you have to do is more of the same and you’re set for life.

Time passes, the economy keeps getting better, and your work load grows, making you more money. Things get so good that you can’t keep up. You can’t hire or train enough apprentices and neither can the other cabinet makers, but the world keeps wanting more.

Then Henry Ford shows the world how mass production works, and it’s soon applied to furniture, cabinets, home building, and other areas where your trade has been applied. Now your apprentices can make more money working in factories or installing mass-produced goods than they can working for you.

Now you raise your rates since you have to do most of the work yourself and you cater to those able to pay for the best.

Now, in a booming economy, you are working harder, charging more but making less, yet still doing well.

Every year, things move faster. The war demands more mass production and less perfection. You keep doing what you’re doing for the rich and the soon-to-be rich — until that day in 1929 when there are suddenly no more rich or soon-to-be rich to serve.

You are way too expensive and slow for those who can still buy cabinets, homes and furniture. They want “good enough” at a reasonable price and they are so busy they don’t want a long process. The technology has provided those that have money the tools to do some of the work themselves at that “good enough” level, saving them lots of money — and hey, it’s fun.

The world changed and you missed it. You weren’t ready. In the meantime, others took your leadership role by being willing to transition to the new opportunities.

Fast forward to 2003, and the great-grandson of the cabinet maker is a young professional salesperson in the technology world. He has a degree in Political Science but always liked technology. He took a sales job in 1995 and has been making a lot of money ever since.

This young man has changed jobs every two or three years to get the next promotion, better pay and the new, HOT product. Now he has arrived as a VP of sales for a HOT new product supporting the real estate industry. The money is great, the kids are in private schools, the house is big, the cars are cool and there is a place at the shore — being a salesperson is good.

It is now 2007 and everything comes to a screeching halt. Things are falling apart, banks are failing, there are no buyers anywhere, and the few that you do find have no access to money. Next, your job is gone just three months before your HOT company closes the door.

Just like your great grandfather, the world rushed past you and you missed it.

The world of sales, like the world of cabinet making, has changed. It is no longer individual performers doing the same thing (only better) year after year. What worked at one point has changed. Even if you could find that next niche and ride that wave right to the beach, there’s a point where the reality is hard-packed sand and you are alone and afoot.

The world of sales is transitioning all around us. Just being a good salesperson was enough for a time. Today, selling is part of the “Revenue Generation” process, and it doesn’t always require a person. Amazon, Zappos, Facebook and Google all make a lot of money with few if any traditional salespeople. They are great examples of applying the science of “Revenue Generation.”

These companies have a revenue strategy; they’ve built a structure that leverages execution to produce both profitable revenue and a GREAT customer experience. The bar has been raised.

Today there are cabinet makers (and there will be for a long time). There are also salespersons, but the game is changing, and if salespeople don’t want to wake up to find out they’ve been left behind, then they’d better start to study the science of “Revenue Generation” and find how to make a new opportunity for the constantly changing future.

Today’s salesperson needs to be reading blogs that challenge the status quo, getting in discussion groups and looking for trends, reading what the futurists say and finding out how skills and PASSION apply to the new science of “Revenue Generation.”

Selling will be with us for a long time, even if the old definition of sales changes. So find where you bring value and get there early.

By the way, the answer to the first question is this: They’re both at risk of being passed over, but neither will believe it’s true until it’s too late.

Rick McPartlin is the CEO of The Revenue Game and is a revenue generation consultant and Vistage speaker. McPartlin was a Vistage member development chair from 2002 to 2009.
Originally published: Jan 17, 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *