Are you a middleman?
I ask, simply because I’m regularly looking over my shoulder at middleman status myself.
If you’re not being pushed into middleman status by technology, then it could be your customers and suppliers who put you there.
Paranoia reigns. Sorry.
This is not a new state of being. Walmart began its attack on independent distributors (middlemen with warehouses) ages ago wiping most of them out. They are so efficiently tied into their supply chain now that orders sometimes bypass headquarters and go straight to factories. (Headquarters as middlemen, who’d of thunk it?)
In the print industry process middleman felt the pinch. First typesetters went, followed by color separators. As newspapers are fast finding out, the entire printing process is being pushed to the side. Moving news to eyeballs quickly means that in some places even editors are seen as middlemen now.
Middlemen. They start as facilitators but become blockages between producer and end-user.
This quarter’s pricing war between Amazon and Walmart indicates that traditional retail warfare has gone virtual big time. While the demise of retail has been predicted since the dawn of the internet age it is surprising to think that even the most efficient big box retail set-up could end up looking like a middleman. Best Buy has been prepping by branding their physical service presence (There’s a reason for our bricks and mortar, parking space for the Geek Squad!). Sears may be finally realizing the power of their old service reputation (probably too late) with the introduction of The Blue Service Crew. But the battle for market share on-line will drive business away from local distribution points that are simply way-stations between UPS shipping points. So when will Walmart buy UPS…or build their own?
Publishers are middlemen, standing between author and outlet. Used to be a reason for that, but with consolidation Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart will move more towards direct control and exclusive deals. Publishers end up looking more like booking agents. That cuts into fees.
Google and Microsoft are even in a bit of a middleman fight themselves. The new tools and offers from Google are a direct attempt to slice Microsoft’s technology out of the information stream between consumer and Google Ads. (And yes it’s also a push to remove Apple’s tech as well.)
So if some of the worlds largest companies are being put in the position of middleman, what’s a poor old soul like me to do?
The question to be asking is: “Where do I add value and why am I interesting?”
I still remember the day I looked up at Hallmark and most of the administrative assistants had disappeared. Secretaries became middlemen. Assistants became middlemen. (While most of them ended up in better jobs, it happened all too quickly by my mind. But then again I still have a portable typewriter sitting around.)
What if the next big idea is how you can be replaced by 30 lines of code and an Erector Set?
Good life requires we push paranoia to the back seat, but what to do? Hide the idea? Avoid the inevitable? That usually doesn’t end well.
There’s a reason the marketing expression “Cut out the middleman” still tends to work.
If you see middleman status coming, then you can see where the functions you provide will be absorbed. The answer may be to sell your company into an organization that is vertically integrating. It may be to shift your customer base to individuals who can’t get access to the replacement technology. It may be to expand into areas around your current skill set. It may be to close up shop and go home (a bit defeatist I know, but it’s always on the table).
The key is: You are in a great position to see how you will be replaced. Use that knowledge to supercharge your radar (as Bill Welter says) to see what is on the horizon and face it head on.