The Revolution!

In August, analysts at Morgan Stanley using data from an Oxford University study predicted that nearly half of U.S. jobs will be replaced by robots over the next two decades. It’s said we will have cars that drive themselves, waiters we won’t need to pay and personalized butlers. Looks like we’re moving rapidly toward a future without actual jobs.

According to a 2013 Stanford University study, some manufacturing robots now cost the equivalent of about $4 per hour – and they keep getting cheaper and better. We even have robots that think. Editors at the Associated Press claim robots write thousands of articles a year for them. It would seem as if the dream of living a WALL-E-type existence, where we float around in auto-piloted chairs, sip on a liquid turkey dinner and stay glued to the attached monitors may become a reality.

Not So Fast! While it certainly seems like we’re headed toward a scary and confusing robot revolution, it is best to remember that technology always creates more jobs than it destroys. Progress creates angst, but it’s still progress. And this time will be no different. Consider that computers destroyed a great deal of manufacturing jobs, but enabled hundreds of millions of new jobs. The reality is that technology augments humans, rather than replaces them.

We don’t need to fear the robots, but we do need to understand that the jobs robots can replace aren’t good jobs in the first place. As humans, we climb the ladder of success using our brains. So we must tap into the greatest computer inside of us, embrace a strategic mindset and start anticipating the kinds of jobs that will emerge over the next 20 years.

Leadership is not about getting people to work harder. In fact, it’s about discovering new paths and new ideas, and incubating the skills needed to sustain us in the future. Leadership is about identifying markets that are important and providing that community a competitive advantage. The future is bright, and while we can all concern ourselves with the changing job climate, take solace in the fact that history proves progress is good.

This month’s Connect Magazine has a cover story titled “The Great Escape.” We discuss some of the strategies and marketing ideas that will gain momentum next year an over the next several years. A second article speaks to how your employees are your best branding asset.

Both are compelling articles that remind us where our focus should remain. If you would like to receive a copy of Connect Magazine please let us know. You can subscribe on our website and it’s completely free.

What If…we just asked our client?

In 1975 I was a print buyer. I ran a small graphics department for a door manufacturer and bought the things we couldn’t do ourselves. That meant any job with photography and four colors was a purchase. I collected bids, selected the printer and awarded the jobs. I was like many of the people you sell to now.

One of my first projects was an “Entry Door” brochure. I can still remember the sales reps, their companies and approximate bids. Some of these guys still do business in Atlanta so I’ll skip the names. The point will be clear, regardless.

Printer #1 quoted $17,300. That was a lot of money in 1975. It was much more than a year’s pay for me. I remember being astonished that printing could cost so much.

Printer #2 quoted $16,900. I consider these two numbers essentially the same. If you get bids like this you can assume that both companies understand the specs and know how to produce the job. At least they know what their costs are.

Printer #3 quoted $13,000. He explained that they had gotten aggressive and wanted the order. He convinced the estimator to give him a good price. It was this guy’s number that taught me pricing (not estimating) is an art. He and his managers “guessed” what the other two would do and really low-balled the quote.

Apparently, I did not respond fast enough. All I did was visit my boss to discuss the prices. This 30 minute delay concerned printer #3. He called me back and cut his price to $12,000. He explained that they really wanted the order and found some savings when they took another look at the estimate. I thanked him and got off the phone.

About an hour later he called again. This time he cut the price to $11,000. They were continuing to look and found even more savings. He wanted to make sure I knew how much they wanted this order.

Well…he got the order. He never knew how much he cut his own price. He never knew how big a laugh my boss and I enjoyed at his expense. His salesmanship amounted to nothing more than price-cutting. He was like a contestant on the old TV show, Name That Tune. “I can produce that brochure for…$11,000.”

Think about this a minute. The nearest price was $5,900 higher than the lowest bid. The printer left thousands on the table. He convinced his company that I was a shrewd buyer and that he had to be cheap to get the business. He was going to get the order before he started cutting. He was already the best price.

I could have easily told the other two printers that they were approximately $6,000 too high. They would have been astonished and would have assumed that I wasn’t comparing apples to apples. The whole charade would have served (perhaps it did) to cheapen the work and to create a downward spiral in price and profit…and…the buyer didn’t do it…the sales rep did.

Now…fast forward several years. I was selling printing. I had an opportunity to quote a large color project for a computer graphics company. I can remember this bid too.

I quoted $36,000. My competition (a much bigger company) quoted $44,000. I didn’t get the job. The customer was more confident in the other guy. He had more experience and this was an important project. His grasp of the situation showed and it won him the work.

I was furious. I ranted, “If $8,000 in savings won’t justify the business what will? Just how low do I have to be to get your business? Would $10,000 do it…$11,000?”

The client calmly replied that he didn’t plan to exclude me when the bidding started. During the process he became concerned that I didn’t have the experience necessary to protect his interest. My low quote added to this and my tantrum sealed the deal…for the other printer.

Now why am I telling you all this? What does this have to do with you and your sales career? What lesson could there be for us today?

It’s simple. Every sales staff has reps that will and reps that won’t. You notice I didn’t say can’t. I said won’t.

This very day there are salespeople adding money to quotes without a second thought. There are service reps on house accounts doing the same thing. These people believe in their service and realize that price is only part of the contract. They know that they bring value. They know that clients will pay what is fair.

This very day there are also salespeople that won’t do it. They believe that price is all that matters and can’t imagine that anyone thinks otherwise. Their work is marginally profitable, they don’t sell as much and their earnings show it.

Please trust me on this. Your confidence about price is directly related to your self esteem. If you have a low opinion of yourself and your company…you are going to put a low value on your product. It will show in the price you submit.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t have to be fair. I understand that you need to be competitive. That isn’t the issue here.

The issue is asking for the price you deserve. The issue is, understanding what the client is really buying. It isn’t just price. If it is…you haven’t been selling. You have only been quoting. One pays much better than the other.