"Supply Chain Issues Creates Salesperson Burnout; Is It Time For A New Career?" - 07/10/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

I am a sales rep and until a year ago I loved my job.  I can sell the furniture that my company manufactures, but they cannot make it as fast as the customer needs it.  Lead times are way out.

Supply chain issues our ruining my relationships with my design firm clients and end users.  We all know the drill. It is a combination of raw material issues along with labor shortages and freight and logistics issues causing every manufacturer to extend lead times - it is not unique to my company.  This dilemma is frustrating my clients and raising the stress level for my job to sell and explain this on a daily basis. Frankly, I just cannot take it anymore.  I have a family and need a job, but this is starting to affect my mental health.  I want your suggestion on finding an alternative industry or career.

Management tells us that as sales people we should be asking design firms to involve us in specifications earlier, and to better communicate with customers so they can change their design to other materials or products and to plan for longer deliveries. Easier said than done!

My designer and specifier clients resist any suggestion to change their design and substitute finishes or products and do not want to hear that the supply problem is not going to get better anytime soon.  I know we see it is in all parts of the supply chain today, both personal and work; from paper towels and toilet paper to computer chips and office chairs.  My clients do not seem to care about that when it comes to their own project or work and it’s up to me to explain and apologize and console. The stress is killing me!  I am not asking you for a solution to the supply chain disturbance I am asking where can I find a job that will not have this problem.
I am wondering if there are other salespeople experiencing the same burnout I am.  Depressed, tired and frustrated with my job.  I represent a great product but even in the best of times it has never been easy and now this problem is creating a new level of anxiety for me and I no longer want to be part of it.  What are my options?  What is your career advice? 

Stressed Out On Supply

Dear SOOS,

If you want to leave the furniture industry because you do not like the pressure and stress of explaining to your customers long lead times and supply chain issues, may I suggest you consider going to work in the hospitality industry.  There seem to be no shortage of hotel rooms, no supply issues, so you could try that sales job.  Does that help with some career advice? Is that what you are asking?  What’s an easy job without having to deal with disruptions in the supply side of manufacturing?

At this point, supply chain issues, plus labor shortages, plus transportation cost increases, are the same worldwide in almost industry.  Last week at Costco they still would only let me buy only one large package of paper towels.  I thought that had ended!  I was wrong.  It is paper, and cardboard and even peanut butter and pasta. So much more. Try to order a new car.  Need some lumber?  It’s a mess.

I recently heard from a number of my clients that they are telling customers this problem has a minimum of six more months to go.  That was a guess on their part.  Realistically, some have told me off the record at NeoCon this week that this disturbance in the supply chain will be longer than 6 months, and maybe go through the middle of next year. I know that’s not what you want to hear.

I am perplexed that furniture companies have not pushed their well-funded trade association, BIFMA (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association), to create a media awareness campaign for them, directed at their customers.  A thoughtful media campaign, not advertising or promotional, to the A&D community and corporate users explaining, “It takes longer…but it’s worth waiting for” and asking “What do you think we can be doing better?”. This type of communication leadership could take some of the pressure off of the salesperson and ultimately help the industry. Honesty and forthrightness usually win the day.    

I encourage people who feel that sales is becoming too stressful and causing emotional anxiety to quit sales.  The pandemic is stressful enough, now these new problems. Put the quality of your life, and time with your family first . Yet you need to make a living to support your family  - so are you exchanging one stress for another.  Unemployment is probably just as stressful.  Consider your age and experience before making any moves and if you are thinking of changing careers and even the industry you are currently working in, your income may be effected dramatically. You need to start by evaluating your family’s financial needs.  Can you afford to change jobs for real?  Then what else are you passionate about.  And there are still other options within your own company that might suit you but are less stressful? For instance, can you trade outside sales for an inside job such as customer services or project management? Maybe that is the answer.

To downsize your lifestyle for your mental health and sanity is not a bad idea.  But this is how I suggest you do it.  Never ever just quit your current job. Start to snoop and search around by asking friends and relatives in other industries that seem happy with their jobs,  why they like their job.  Ask them if it is realistic for you to change in to what they are doing. Spend 3-6 months thoroughly checking out new career options.  You have to do all this on your own because a headhunter can not help you land a job in a new industry. Calling a company directly or referral and word of mouth is best. Everyone is hiring so there is more flexibility than before on direct experience.  Companies are just desperate and that is to your advantage.  But get ready – the money you’re used to making in outside sales may not be the same in other careers. Then, after that time and interviews and financial analysis on you part, if you are still ready to make that change, pull the trigger. 

Be forewarned! Changing your career without really giving it time and thought is like getting a divorce after your first fight with a spouse.  Chances are it is a mistake! There’s a 50/50 chance you may feel better after another few months in the job you already have, so please consider waiting.