One manufacturers’ representative* reports heartburn over a Wall Street Journal article that describes smartphone app Universal Avenue as, “Like Uber, but for a sales force.” Here is his story. You be the judge.
“When I want a ride to the airport on Tuesday, Uber’s smartphone app pings the driver closest to me, and Fred picks me up. When I need a ride to the airport on the following Saturday, Uber again pings the driver closest to me, and Sally picks me up,” he explained.
“There are thousands of Uber drivers in my city. Will I ever see Fred or Sally again? Unlikely. Does driving me to the airport make Fred or Sally my ‘trusted transportation consultant’? Absolutely not!”
The article that triggered this representative’s indigestion, “Coming Next: The On-Demand Sales Force,” says of this smartphone app, “Companies can use it to get salespeople on demand, and these salespeople choose when to work and which assignments to accept.”
The article illustrates with this example: Sales freelancer Sven in Stockholm can decide to spend a few hours selling to pick up some extra cash. The smartphone app “considers Sven’s strengths and weaknesses, matches him with goods from any of a dozen brands, and plots a route through Stockholm optimized to include as many potential customers as possible in the time allotted.”
Just like Uber drivers Fred and Sally, Sven can choose to spend a few hours working where a smartphone app sends him. Sven’s likely customers are small businesses: “hotels, hostels, restaurants, clubs, bars, cafes, stores, beauty shops, tour operators, museums and similar businesses” where the owner is likely on site and easy to pitch on services like booking systems, delivery services, or credit card processing, says Techcrunch.com. It’s pitch, close, and move on to the next Universal Avenue-assigned target, a process the manufacturers’ representative describes as “Hit and Run.”
“I guess the source of my heartburn is that I have been lazy in using the phrases ‘outsourced sales force’ and ‘manufacturers’ representative’ interchangeably,” admits the representative. “Now when I have to explain the role of manufacturers’ representatives, ‘outsourced and cost-effective’ isn’t enough.
“I also have to explain the difference between an outsourced sales freelancer like Sven and an outsourced professional manufacturers’ representative like me.
“Sven may spend a few hours pitching credit card services to a half dozen bars and booking systems to a couple of restaurants before quitting for the day. As a professional manufacturers’ representative I am more interested building long-term relationships with customers who will treat me as a trusted advisor for decades than I am in writing any single order.
“I guess that until now I had become complacent about making that point clear when I described my business model. But I will make that point crystal clear in the future.
“I am a professional manufacturers’ agent, not a freelancer. I am not Sven.”
* MANA editorials are written to illustrate a particular point of view, not to recount any particular conversation with a specific manufacturers’ representative.