The Outside Versus the Inside Man

W. A. Porter August 1 1908

The Outside Versus the Inside Man

W. A. Porter August 1 1908

The Outside Versus the Inside Man

W. A. Porter

The Requirements, Responsibility and Obligations of Those who are at the Back of the Traveler, Faithfulness and Devotion to Duty of the Inside Man Should Earn for Him Larger Reward and Greater Consideration When Promotions are Made or Salaries Increased.

I SHALL endeavor to condense the arguments, pro and con, which are customarily used in an ordinary business to carry the point when this subject is discussed. The only reason for argument may possibly lie in the fact that “each unto his own” is a man’s business religion, always understanding that each man’s own particular work is necessarily the hardest and the least appreciated. This idea originated thousands of years ago, and is likely to last for a few more aeons. There should be no friction and no misunderstanding between the men who, as traveling salesmen, represent or misrepresent their respective houses and the men who are empowered to carry out the inside workings and the general policy of these houses, but the fact remains that the trouble, in the majority of cases, does exist and is a constant source of worry to those in charge.

A little consideration of the causes of this friction may help some to be more fair in their treatment of each side of the case, may make them more able to deal justly with the matter, with a resultant profit to themselves and to their employes. A little patience and mutual education will do wonders to help things along—that is the reason for the appeal in this paper.

As a rule, there are two sources from which the average traveler is created — from the works or warehouse in which he has been employed since a youth, and from the outside, that is from some opposition house.

Taking the case of the former—he has worked for years in an atmosphere of trade terms, packing and shipping, checking and stock-keeping, rush and bustle, his constant aim being to arrive on time in the morning

and to get out so much by night—to please “the boss” and to keep from being “docked” for errors in packing or shipping. He becomes a useful man and hjs chance comes to him—a vacancy on the traveling staff occurs and he is asked if he would like to become that ideal of his, a Traveler. He wonders why Jones, who is a much better man than he, in every way, is not given the opportunity—Jones is worth five dollars petweek more to his firm than the man selected —and his wonder increases when he is told that Jones is too valuable a man, for the inside, to be put on the road, too good a man to be spared, and yet the offer to the new traveler (for, of course, he accepts) embraces an increase in salary which places him above Jones in earning capacity, and this without one single effort or trial, on his part, to show that he is worth one copper, as a salesman to his firm. Is this fair, just or even decent?

And yet it is done every day, and the sting remains with Jones—“too good” to be spared for the road, but not good enough to receive as much money as his admitted junior and inferior, whom he may be called upon to help out of many a trouble in days to come—can Jones be blamed for cursing his own energy and aptitude, which placed him on top only to be kept where he can rise no higher and to see his juniors stepping over his head?

Is it an inducement to a man to use his brains to rise “inside” the house when the result of his success may be his downfall, in a sense—when he sees the “outside” man suddenly made a little god and while he himself remains just “good old Jones”?

Do employers think of this when old and valued employes leave them for other houses? Better tor them if they would think first, sacrifice a trifle of their own personal comfort and give Jones a chance as good as that of any other employe.

The new traveler starts out for his firm in a pardonable state of enthusiasm and misplaced energy—he tries his very best, of course, but he soon learn that in the game of selling he has competition to meet and the lessons are hard to learn. In time he becomes the finished product—his mistakes have been numerous, but he is a “Traveler,” andjhe rests content.

The other source before referred to produces the man procured from a rival house. This man is experienced, knows the goods and may probably know his customers. He must be a good talker and “jollier” in order to persuade the same customers that the goods which he is now handling are vastly superior to, or even equal to, the goods which he has been-extolling for years while in the employ of the other firm. New or old, the traveling salesman ought to be a credit to his house—does he always try to be ?

His firm should be able to trust him as implicitly as if he were at headquarters— he should be trying always not only to swell the amount of his sales, but also to promote the interests of his house by selling goods which produce a profit and by avoiding unnecessary expenditure—the “amount” of the sales is worse than nothing to a firm when the “profit” is gone, unless an unfortunately large stock happens to be on hand.

The traveler’s sins are many—he carelessly or illegibly writes his orders, causing confusion and worry at the warehouse olfactory, he makes occasional mistakes in figuring and then fumes because the house will not support him in his blunders; he changes his route so that his mail becomes lost for a time and then rages because the house criticizes him sharply for breaking prices—prices which did not reach him owing to his own stupidity in altering his route before he informed the office; he takes up the cudgels" for his customers and writes letters to the firm on a variety of things, trivial and otherwise, ’ letters which would seem to emanate from a deadly enemy instead of from a paid servant of the house— and these letters must be patiently read and reflected upon, and there is the trouble— for the inside man.

A letter from the office to a customer

who has lodged a complaint with a traveler may, if not carefully and courteously worded, cause the loss of that customer’s trade, and that through no intentional fault of the writer, who has no information save what he finds in the rather incoherent letter of the irascible traveler. The salesman is on the spot, but the inside correspondent is supposed to have telepathic communication and to be able to conciliate and satisfy a man who is perhaps three hundred miles away, and whom he has never seen.

Again, the traveler is generally very well satisfied with himself as being wide awake and not easily “gulled,” and yet he is the easiest victim in the world to the old, wornout game of “better price from the others.” The almost insane eagerness with which he rushes in an order at a reduced price “to meet competition’'’ is a strange thing to see —it is a disease with most salesmen, a disease which it seems almost hopeless to try to cure. But does the salesman get the blame for reduced profits at the end of the year? Not in nine cases out of ten, for it is the inside man who is held responsible, while the traveler is “our star representative” who sold so many thousands of dollars’ worth more than any other salesman— and he never even blushes for shame when his salary is increased:

And then the toiler of the road, when business may be slack, must make the sales look well—he books orders for future delivery with a reckless disregard of the possible rise in price of raw material and trusts to the house to sustain him. Business exigencies may cause the firm to grudgingly accept the orders, but is that sound policy, and does the salesman or the house gain by it ? Once a cutter of prices always a cutter, in this busy age. The man who cannot sell goods without cutting his prices and without holding out “future delivery” as-an inducement is worse than useless to his employers and should be summarily disposed of. *

Now let us consider the opportunities in the hands of the average traveling salesman if he wishes, to use them. He has the privilege of meeting, face to face, the customers who patronize his house ; he has unlimited opportunities of studying each character and forming his opinion of the way best suited to address each man; he can force his own personality, to a greater or lesser degree, upon every customer with whom he may come in contact ; he is able to personally investigate most grievances and to adjust differences; he can examine defective goods and report to his house with a clear idea as to what is wrong, or claimed to be wrong, and he can do this without offending the customer or losing his own dignity in the least—he has these opportunities; does he always use them?

A successful traveler may make some enemies, but it does not follow that he must make them ; he need not be a prince of good fellows, but he must respect his customers and he must make them respect him and his house. A bit of sympathy is never wasted, but a salesman who talks in a derogatory manner of his own house, or of other houses, is a nuisance and abomination—his word becomes a by-word and his statements, however big, are given little thought. Again, a thoughtful salesman may assist a customer by advising him as to probable advances in prices and by helping him to order accordingly, but it does not follow that he should deliberately throw away his firm’s chances of a legitimate profit by taking orders broadcast, in order to swell his sales, when the market on raw material suddenly advances, and his own cleverness should not induce him to. take it upon himself to reduce prices to customers because he has had a tip as to the sudden fall in price of the same raw material—he should give his firm the same chance that his customers get, for his salary comes from the house and not from the man who buys from him.

As to his troubles there is no doubtcranky customers, pompous, conceited, badtempered, good-natured, bibulous, abstemious, sports, church elders, saints and sinners —he has to meet and adapt himself to them all; that is, he should try to adapt himself to all ; he has to talk to enraged debtors whom the house has seen fit to dun and he has to put off men whose credit has become too shaky for his firm to trust; he has to be polite and attentive to every prosy and wearying crank who loves to dwell upon local church festivals and the fall fairs, and he must burden himself with many woes which concern him not.

The “inside’’ man has upon his shoulders a responsibility which varies according to the number of duties which lie to his lot, but he generally has to be a combination of a great many different kinds of a man

and must be ready, at all times, to assume immediately the duties which every phase of his work demands. His greatest trouble is that he is expected to be a first-rate man at almost every class of work common to a warehouse and office and he must constantly jump from one thing to another without the slightest hesitation and without warning—he is unfortunately endowed with only one brain, but is expected to have two or three heads for each day’s use.

Office-boy, invoice clerk, salesman, ledgerkeeper, cashier, accountant, correspondent, buyer—he must know enough of the work of each in order to properly control things—if he fails in the slightest degree, the powers that be are down on him like a shot. If he undertakes more than he is capable of attending to, so that things may work smoothly, and then relaxes in the least, he is put down as beginning to grow old, and his end is quick—he is soon on the business junk-heap.

He must understand and control his warehouse, office or factory staff, must know the capabilities of each man, his strong points and his weaknesses, and must so use his knowledge that he may get the best results and at the same time satisfy both his firm and his staff. He must keep in touch with his travelers and assist them as much as possible in his correspondence -—correspondence conducted with men nine-tenths of whom he has never seen and of whose personal characteristics he has but the slightest knowledge.

He has to see that errors are rectified, prices are kept both by the inside and the outside salesmen, that shipments are made as promptly as possible and that complaints are attended to so as not to offend the firm’s customers ; he must soothe the irritated traveler who thinks that his firm is giving him the worst of an argument and he must always be patient and fair when a dispute arises with a patron of the house—in short, he ought to be a paragon, which is exactly what lie is not.

Some (.lays he is harassed ami worried by every imaginable complaint that the mail, the telephone or the telegraph can throw at him—everything will diabolically persist in breaking loose or going wrong. But he must always remember that it is expected of him to answer his correspondence in a courteous and business-like manner and not allow his personal feelings to affect him at all. For every complaint which a traveler receives the inside man has a dozen, and he has the additional misfortune of being expected to listen to the traveler's personal complaint after the matter in question has been gone over with the customer—he has to fight with one hand tied, as it were, and he must always come up smiling, at that.

If a traveling salesman be taken ill a substitute is provided, so that the connection may be kept up; and, upon recovery, the regular traveler takes up his work just where he left off. But let the inside man fall ill, and what happens?

Upon his return he generally find« enough work heaped up for him to make him wish that he had stayed where he was, and he is looked upon as having deliberately made himself ill in order to inconvenience others. If an epidemic strikes the staff he has the unalloyed pleasure of trying to do three or four men’s work at the same time, with the result that his own work suffers, and the powers that be become frigid or torrid, as the occasion seems to warrant.

Did anybody ever hear of a firm or an employer hustling around to try to furnish a substitute when an old and trusted inside or office man might be temporarily away from work through illness? He, or they, might make a spasmodic effort to have some one “just look over Smith’s papers, will you?” but it seems to be always taken for granted that Smith will make things right, never mind how.

How often do employers ever think that the inside man may need money as well as the outside man—that he often has to entertain customers—that he is denied privileges which the traveler enjoys, simply because the business of the firm must appear to be conducted upon steady, strict and solid lines?

And when sales have been good and the business year has turned out well-—when the traveling salesmen are enjoying Christmas holidays at the firm’s expense and receiving increased salaries, based upon their sales, does it ever occur to the firm or directors that a large portion of those so-called “travelers’ sales” comes from the efforts of the inside men?

Do employers, as a rule, remember that the tact, patience and courtesy of their showroom salesmen, the laborious interpretation of involved specifications, with the results clearlv set down in the finished quo-

tation. and the following up of these quotations by the correspondent bring to them a great share of their business, a share which they would get without the accident of the traveler’s having chanced upon the customer when things were ripe for results?

An inside man does all these things as a matter of course, and has to do them well, or get out—he may make more personal sales than the best traveling salesman employed by his firm and may be an invoice clerk, cost man or correspondent at the same time, but he would never dream of claiming an increased salary because he happened to sell goods any more than he would ask for more money because his letters bore a more finished style than those of others or that his clerical work was neater and more quickly done.

He must be a combination, and a good combination, of different types, of men, to be appreciated at all.

How often does the head of a firm notice that his office and warehouse are cleaner than they used to be, that his books are cleaner and neater, that his invoices and statements go out more regularly, that the correspondence is brighter and more convincing, that his whole staff is more alert and accurate?

If he does notice it, does he give a passing thought to the care, the patience and the hard work necessary to produce those results ?

Does he ever remember that a few years ago his mail was filled with complaints about bad packing and shipping and his warehouse seemed to have no system or order about it—and does he then reflect that things are different now, everything in its place, all moving smoothly and the complaints reduced to almost nothing?

If some passing wonder fills his mind it is generally gone before it has caused him to consider that some man or group of men close to him, in his very office or factory, has evolved this order out of chaos, and in addition to this has kept his travelers -to their work, has assisted them to sell their goods, has pointed out possible chances for orders and the right men to see, has kept watch on prices for selling and buying, has looked after collections and avoided financial pitfalls, and has done it all without hope of one word of praise or appreciation

He generally expects no reward and his expectations are fulfilled—there is no halo for him, no fat increase in sa iry— but he knows his work and does it and he has the satisfaction of feeling and knowing what he has done was good. Others may do the talking, but he does the work, and gets his own reward in his own peculiar way.

The time will surely come when the inside man will beas much appreciated as he is now overlooked, and when things have been shaken down to their proper level he will be found where his brains, education and energy should long ago have plated him—very near the top.

In the meantime his lot would be rendered happier and his work made easier if the average employer would sometimes use toward him the same consideration that he gives to his traveling salesmen—his work should be recognized, and his salary should be based upon his work and results, and not merely upon length of service.

If a traveler increases his sales largely he expects, and gets, an increased salary— why, in the name of all that is just and rea-

sonable, is the salary of the inside man not increased w'hen his work becomes greater and his services more valuable to his firm? Why is it that the salesman’s salary, at the periodical adjustment of affairs, is advanced from five to ten dollars per week, if he has done his duty and done it well, and the inside man receives only an additional dollar or two per week simply because his work has been also done well and his duty performed?

Is it not because most employers are a little selfish in their thoughts of their own immediate surroundings and convenience and are short-sighted in looking afar? This may sound somewhat paradoxical, but does it not hit very near to the truth ?

The inside man’s faithfulness and devotion to duty should earn for him a better reward than he usually receives, and I take the liberty of trusting that my remarks may cause a small portion of those who may read this article to think a little more deeply, in future, of how to help and understand him.