Saturday, December 04, 2004

Manufacturing's Front Lines

Being a pajamahadeen is a low paying (or is that non-paying?) job but it has it’s psychic benefits. Due to a bit of help from Thomas Lifton of The American Thinker, I got my first comment to one of my posts. Thanks Jack! Thomas recently ran a fine article on engineers, Engineers and Terrorists. So as part of my request for him to send me some traffic, I volunteered to become his engineering correspondent. I’ve got the basic outline for the first article ready, I just need to finish the project. It should be ready this week. Of course on Friday, CBS will release it’s Rathergate report, so if the Texas Air National Guard FOIA info comes in this could be a busy week.

But I got some news in my “real” job that might depress you. So here’s a report from the front lines of American manufacturing. The bad news is that short time horizon MBA’s are in decision making positions. It’s like dealing with Dilbert’s pointy haired boss. We are a manufacturer’s representative. This means we provide the sales expertise for companies that do not have a large enough customer base to afford an in-house sales force. So we get paid commissions for sales of their products within our sales territory. If we don’t’ sell it, it does not get sold. Then nobody has a job! And we have to capitalize the sale from initial contact until months after the manufacturer gets paid on his invoice. Only then do we get paid! It’s a tough job. But their spreadsheet sales management types view us with suspicion. And it is much too easy to shift the blame to us rather on themselves or their co-workers within the manufacturer whom they see personally every day.

As you probably know, we had a prolonged recession in manufacturing. Times have been tough. This makes management unhappy with the sales performance. They tend to do one or both of two things, they fire their sales manager and get a new golden boy or they fire the rep. Things in the rep business have gotten so bad that there is a looming shortage of reps to hire once you’ve fired your existing rep, but foolish hope (think Dilbert) springs eternal and they do it anyway.

The news I got is that a customer I had developed for one manufacturer has made progress in developing their invention, the Armstrong Process. It is nearing commercial operation. If you read the link you’ll see that they are a start-up company that has DARPA support for their process. Their product will be a titanium powder. The potential is enormous. I worked with them back in the salad days and designed and sold them their Reactor. They have just ordered three more reactors.

This should be good news, except the third new sales manager in a year fired us in the interim. We expected him to follow his own companies' policies and pay us commission for material specified and installed in our territory, but invoiced outside the territory. He was offended that we expected to get paid for our work and fired us! Unfortunately, he’s not alone in this attitude. Another principal has an employee who keeps saying that we would be better off if we stopped worrying about our commission (our sole source of income) and concentrated on selling. He’s also willing to let us discount his products to meet competition but at reduced commission rates. On some items this means getting the order at zero commission!

I’ve got to find a way to make pajamaheen a paying job!


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