Jan 28 2015
A recent meeting with a sales professional led to a discussion about the supposed disappearance of the “middle man”. (OK, for the politically correct, the term would now be “middle person”.) The “middle man” was the person who facilitated a business transaction, a go-between. Job titles such as manufacturer’s representative, rack jobber, deal-maker, agent, broker or distributor, among others, were synonymous with middle man, and they occupied a variety of industries. We wondered if being in the middle was where anyone wanted to be any more, or if such a role was still a viable career or job objective?
In one sense, the middle man has disappeared. In our internet age where so many transactions are handled directly between two parties (buyer and seller, for example), there is less need for a go-between. It is much easier today to source just about anything – hard goods, information, or services – without the need for someone else in the middle of the deal who will add an additional layer of communication and possibly expense.
But in reality, the person in the middle continues to thrive, and endures in a variety of roles in a diverse array of industries. Certainly among the most prominent of these facilitators are office administrators who truly are in the middle of everything going on in their workplace. Frequently the one who finds information or contacts for others, arranges meetings, relays calls and messages, an office admin is probably the most common of those in the middle. They are also the one most depended upon by others to be the go-between between staff in different departments, those on the outside of the business, and even between management and internal personnel.
And regardless of their actual titles, there continue to be a wide variety of jobs where being in the middle is an important role. Mortgage and insurance brokers come to mind. The mortgage broker will be the “middle person” between a home buyer and a lending source when the rules or limitations of a single bank might prove inhibiting. An insurance broker can find the best policies to fit the specific and possibly dissimilar needs of individuals or businesses from multiple providers. There are brokers in many industries that negotiate deals between parties.
One role that continues to grow in the middle is that of concierge. Whether working in the hospitality industry, in a corporate environment or residential setting, the concierge is in the middle helping people to find the goods and services they need for their home, their office or their vacation. The concierge allows people to delegate some activity so they can directly or indirectly accomplish something else.
Manufacturer’s representatives still flourish providing goods within specific industries. They facilitate the sale of a variety of products from different companies to a common end user, such as someone who sells portion control containers, disposable eating utensils, napkins and paper cups, all from separate manufacturers to individual restaurants or restaurant suppliers. And then there are the rack jobbers who provide a particular set of related products to separate retailers for final sale. In simplest terms, each person involved in these business deals, regardless of their industry or product specialty, is the middle person.
Many people who fill these roles are independent contractors and their compensation for their efforts is frequently commission based. But there are actual businesses that employ people to be their transaction facilitators as employees, and in some instances individuals might be salaried, or a combination of salary plus commissions. Employee or independent contractor, if you’re really good at what you do, earnings can be quite lucrative.
In order to excel at such a position, at the very least, one must be highly knowledgeable about their industry’s products, services and key players. Negotiation skills are also very important, as are communication and active listening skills. And it doesn’t hurt to be a people person comfortable with promotion and sales. Tenacity and patience are also important, similarly to any position where one is dealing with disparate entities each with their own timelines and priorities.
So the middle man or woman still has great value in the workplace. Opportunities in many industries exist for those interested in putting themselves in the middle. And the middle isn’t a bad place to be. If you’re the one in the middle, you may have the best view of everything going on in your business space. You may be one others depend on to make things happen, to complete deals and connect people with resources. When you’re in the middle, people will count on you to make things happen. If you want a position with a lot of responsibility, you must ask yourself: Can you handle being in the middle?
For more ideas about being in the middle, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit: hanklondon.com or contact me.