Dear Manager,

We’ve all heard of the staggering increases in productivity in American Business over the past two decades. Much of this can be directly attributed to the significant inroads of technology in each of our personal and professional lives. (I promise to not beat a dead horse on this issue by focusing on the corresponding, less-than-positive impact this new technology has imposed.) Similar to most aspects of life, “too much of a good thing,” and failure to find equalizing balances, will come back to haunt us.

With this issue I’d like to look at this topic and the necessary “equalizing balances” in terms of quality vs. quantity. I can’t think of two more equal, yet by nature more conflicting, aspects of business in today’s marketplace. With the advances of the world economy in full bloom, quality vs. quantity is clearly the dynamic that will determine our future, and the future for generations to come, if the U.S. is to retain its competitive edge.

A number of years ago my daughter left college after her junior year to move to the Silicon Valley and join the “dot.com rush.” While my feelings were mixed, I genuinely supported her decision. Katie is one who will always land on her feet, and I felt this would give her some of those life experiences we all need. Jeez, to be 20, making $60K a year, and with the title of Project Manager to boot … doesn’t get much better than that!

It was an amazing year, twelve-hour days, six or seven-day weeks of intensely focused time with members of what became “a new family.” Exhaustion, poor eating habits I’m sure, with only infrequent visits to the gym to ease some of the stress. I think we’d all agree: a bit too much quantity, too little quality. Just before her one year anniversary, it became obvious that yes, the price had become too high. Katie gave notice. She yearned for her former life and the more simple pleasures found in college. She’s moved back to Seattle to finish up her degree. She truly appreciates so much more what she’d nearly lost: the quality of life she had forsaken. As you may have predicted, weeks later her former company locked its doors.

Ah yes, how the “pendulum do swing” from one extreme to the other, both individually and organizationally, in these times of high drama for American Business. This evolution in the marketplace has certainly affected the gift, stationery, and home furnishing markets. The smoke and mirrors of the collectable industry is in the tank with the influence of the Internet and its “clean air and pricing policies.” The greeting card industry is just now admitting the impact of the virtual greeting card, and for every new and independent retailer opening in this category there are three that will close. Only those who innovate and adapt will survive.

Clearly this is a reflection of our society’s infatuation with the Sam’s Clubs, Targets and Costco’s of the world, making it very, very, very clear that “this is where America shops!” Quantity would seem to rule this contest, though in reality the independent retailer’s lack of innovation has resulted in no current growth. Those who are growing do so at the expense and market share of another. Similarly, in the absence of innovation, manufacturers have no choice but to follow their customers.

The president of a sales agency recently asked me how best to protect his interests in these difficult times. He felt the need to shore up his agency with additional new manufacturers, but realized he’d do so at the expense of available time and capacity for his current manufacturers. When you’re running scared in business, most any path of least resistance can seem incredibly appealing.

Capacity is a very real and ongoing concern for both manufacturers and sales agencies in this and other industries. Productivity has been enhanced, but in this industry many are still writing orders by hand (a slow and mundane process of decades past), instead of using hand held, automated order writing systems. I know of one agency that experienced a forty percent growth in sales once these devices were implemented.

The increase was neither the result of a better-trained sales force, nor of a hot or explosive marketplace. It was simply a reflection of increased capacity. My first response to this agency president would be to run, don’t walk, to the implementation of this form of automation for his agency. While it won’t solve the underlying problem, you can be assured that if or when the gas runs out of the engine, at least you’ll be holding the fuel pump!

My second piece of advice would be that quality over quantity has survived the test of time in American Business. Certainly the dumping of quantity from overseas and domestic markets has taken its toll, but in the end, quality always rules. Think of it in these terms; would you prefer to be known for your quality, or your ability to produce quantity? It would seem to be fairly clear. Even if the pendulum is currently swinging against you, it will swing back. With time, quality always comes back into favor.

In conversations with my sales associates, I would always suggest that while I could find them three additional manufacturers to represent, I couldn’t find them the additional four days each month to support the manufacturers’ rightful needs and expectations. While it was common for many sales agencies to represent thirty or more manufacturers, our agency represented fifteen.

It was clearly important to our agency that we play a significant and visible role with our manufacturers. I wanted to be more than just “another rep agency” in these primary relationships. In good times, I wanted our agency to be acknowledged as a potential leader; in difficult times I wanted our agency to be in a position to receive the benefit of the doubt. Strong and mutually beneficial relationships, ones founded on quality, are becoming less common. I wanted to stand out among the masses, making it that much more difficult to form a negative conclusion relating to our organization.

I also found this policy to be revealing as it related to our internal sales trends. Invariably, even with our limited number of manufacturers, the bottom three consistently represented less than three percent of our total sales! Can you imagine how these ratios would translate to an agency with thirty or more manufacturers? What potential for quality exists for the manufacturers at the bottom of that heap?

One of the greatest challenges for agency presidents, their staff, and sales people, is the sheer amount of administration, follow up and maintenance required to stay on top of so many manufacturers. This was a daunting task for our office and each of its staff members. Forget quality for a moment. How much more capacity, let alone stamina, can I provide a dozen clients compared to thirty? Clearly, this single commitment established a sense of quality, clear lines of communication, and years of security for our organization, in the good times and in the bad.

We as managers must remain vigilant in these highly productive times to not overextend our staff’s capacity. We must maintain the standards of quality consistent with our prior success. In times when quantity vs. quality is in debate, this may be your greatest opportunity to throw all of your resources behind your own position of strength in the marketplace. You will not just be noticed; you will stand head and shoulders above your competitor.

Personal Regards,


INTERPERSONAL© is published by INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM, Keenan Longcor, Editor, ©2011. Duplication of this publication is permitted for both personal and business use. Excerpts may only be quoted with acknowledgment of INTERPERSONAL/INTERPERSONALBIZ.ORG as the source. For re-publication rights, please contact the editor at KEENAN@INTERPERSONALBIZ.COM