A few decades ago, before cell phones, GPS and all the tricky technology we count on today, a new mall opened up somewhere out west.
The mall was enormous. The building itself was grand in size, but the parking lots surrounding it were even larger. The architecture of the mall was spectacular, but such was the design that the building looked nearly identical from every approach.
Before it opened, the owners of the mall realized it would be very easy for a shopper to lose their car in the expansive lots. Making matters worse, if they happened to exit the mall from a door different from the one where they had entered, the lack of distinguishing qualities in the building design would lead to people getting even more lost.
So, in anticipation of this problem, the mall hired a team of highly trained parking lot attendants to assist shoppers should they be unable to find their car. The team drove up and down the lanes of the parking lots in golf carts looking for wayward shoppers.
Not long after the mall opened, one of the lot attendants came across a woman who was clearly lost. The attendant approached the woman and asked her a series of questions to help determine the location of her car. She answered the questions cheerfully, and hopped into the golf cart to go in search of her car.
The last of the questions the attendant was trained to ask, had to do with the description of the shopper’s car. She described it as an average looking brown station wagon. With that info and the other questions she had answered, the attendant knew where to start.
They drove up one aisle and down another until the woman pointed ahead and said, “Ooh, oh, there’s my car, right there!”
The attendant looked in the direction of her gaze, but saw no brown station wagon. Curious he asked, “Miss, I don’t see a brown station wagon.” She chuckled and said, “I can’t see it either, but I can see my big red canoe strapped on top of it. Huh, I guess I forgot about that.”
It is with this little prelude that I bring you the greatest “Heads Up” story you may ever hear.
For five years, I was the Director of Sales & Marketing for a manufacturing company. I had half a dozen sales people for whom I was responsible, and in addition to my own sales responsibilities, I made every effort to facilitate their individual success.
Selling is a tricky thing, and you can never have too many resources to support your effort.
I regularly encouraged my sales team to include me any time they felt it might help close a deal. Sometimes this meant having me in a meeting, or on a tour of our facility. A few times I took two- day road trips with a salesperson to a city where we had a few clients and were in active pursuit of more.
The presence of a Sales Director in a client meeting serves two purposes:
- It shows the client that the company is serious about earning their business
- It gives the Director an opportunity to see that salesperson in the wild and in turn help them sharpen their skills
Most of the time my involvement in other deals was simply popping my head into the conference room to say “hi” to a client and hand off my business card. If the client ever wanted to go “above” the salesperson to try and get a better deal, that little move opened the door. Very often our sales team was working with Directors, Vice Presidents and even C-level executives. These folks tend to like to speak to their equivalent, especially when large sums of money are on the line.
The whole thing is a game of chess, but it is one all salespeople agree to play, so play it we do.
One of my salespeople in the company had made some inroads with potential customer in Albany, NY. This particular prospect was the Albany equivalent of a fruitful client we had in Rochester, so we knew it had potential.
My salesperson, let’s just call him Mike, had been to visit this client a few months before and had clearly made an impression since two of the contacts planned on stopping by our facility as they passed through town on other business.
Mike alerted me to the upcoming meeting about a week in advance, so a few days out we sat down and made a plan.
- Mike would greet them at reception and take them to the conference room
- Working with our Marketing Coordinator, Mike would make sure they got coffee, or water
- Mike would then alert me they were settled and start the meeting
- A few minutes later I would come into the conference room, introduce myself and participate in the latter half of the meeting
- Once the meeting was over, the four of us would go on a tour of our 40,000 sq ft facility
When the tour ended, we would normally have a sense if there was a need to return to the conference room, but most of the time clients were ready to go by the time the tour concluded.
Mike filled me in on what they had discussed when he visited them in Albany and he gave me a little background on the two clients coming by. I felt well prepared.
The morning of the meeting came and everything was going according to plan. Since my office was close to the front door, I actually heard the clients arrive so fifteen minutes later when my phone rang I was ready. I grabbed a few business cards off the holder on my desk and headed down the hall to the conference room.
As the diagram below indicates, the conference room was a long rectangle, with two windows on one side and the only door on the opposite wall.
I strode into the conference room, acknowledging Mike with a nod and then took two steps past the left end of the conference table. I turned 180 degrees to face the clients.
As I extended my right hand across the table towards Client 1, I was shocked to see that the client HAD NO ARMS!
In an incredibly awkward white guy maneuver, I managed to sort of nod at Client 1, and at the same time pivot towards Client 2, who, thank the Lord God above, did in fact have arms and a hand to shake.
I sat down next to Mike and did my best to regain my composure. The meeting continued for ten more minutes and then it was time to take the tour. We all stood up. Well, three of us did, but it was at this point that Client 2 grabbed a hold of Client 1 by the chest and lowered him down onto a low-slung wheelchair I hadn’t noticed it because it was below the level of the table.
Client 2 was doing this for Client 1, because in addition to having no arms, Client 1 also HAD NO LEGS!
Let me say a little bit about factory tours. When you work in a high-tech manufacturing facility, the employees run the gamut from entry-level assembly workers, all the way up to senior level executives. It is truly a spectrum of experience and sophistication. Because of this, whenever an important tour is scheduled, the whole factory is alerted and given ample warning about why this tour is meaningful and if anything specific should be said or avoided (like showing work for a competitor). Since this was not a particularly special tour, no advance warning had been given… none.
We set out from the conference room with Mike in the lead, Client 2 pushing Client 1, and me cringing behind them all.
We managed to get through the tour just fine and everyone on the factory floor was astonishingly unaffected by the presence of a client completely devoid of limbs.
We finished the tour, and as expected the client wanted to get back on the road. Mike and I stood in the lobby, watching Client 2 push Client 1 down the ramp in front of the building and load him into the car. Once they had driven out of the parking lot onto the main road, I turned to Mike and (with a truckload of sarcasm) said, “do you think it might have been worth mentioning that Client 1 had NO ARMS AND NO LEGS?!?!”
Mike shrugged his shoulders replying (much like the canoe lady), “sorry, I guess I forgot.”
I was so flummoxed I just went back to my office. I later learned that my Marketing Coordinator, after awkwardly asking both clients of they’d like coffee or water (we had no straws to offer), had walked through the entire facility, giving everyone an appropriate “heads up.”
Surprises are unavoidable. Every day we encounter the unexpected, but we should all be careful to not be the source of a needless bolt from the blue. As you brief your boss, coworker, spouse or friend on a particular situation, always ask yourself:
Is there any information I have which, if I share it, could help this situation?
Full and complete disclosure in any situation could give you a “leg-up,” that is assuming of course that you have at least one.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.