What Happens When You Start with the Wrong Visibility with a Customer?


Being successful comes down to hard work, showing up the right way, at the right time, with the right people – and sometimes with a broken calculator.

That’s right, a broken calculator. A beat-up, malfunctioning, Hewlett Packard 41C with “Chris” engraved on the back. A calculator that had seen its owner through many hours of developing cost estimation programs. A calculator that might be tossed by anyone else, but whose owner placed sentimental value on the device – and who really wanted it fixed.

Enter me.

(No, I can’t fix calculators, but I know people who can.) It started when I phoned for an appointment with Chris, a Fortune 100 SVP of sales, because the IT department was planning the multi-million-dollar replacement of their Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

When Chris heard that an HP person was on the phone (with no mention from his assistant about the subject matter), he only thought of his calculator. Someone from HP? Someone who could fix his calculator? Sure, he said, come on over.

I must admit I was a bit shocked since no one from HP had ever met the man. Still, I was excited and ready to learn from Chris and to discuss his MRP and CRM needs. Chris, as SVP of sales, was obviously a major stakeholder, so I proudly patted myself on the back for landing a meeting.

The Next Day…

Chris greeted me with, “I gotta tell you, I’m surprised HP would send a person to come see me, and so quickly. I guess the things I read about HP service are true.” I thought the comment a bit strange, but my excitement quickly pushed the thought from my head as I pulled out my PowerPoint and began our exchange.

After a couple of minutes, Chris stopped me. “Why are we talking about this? I thought you were here to fix my calculator,” Chris says, handing me his well-worn, broken, device.

In the face of my bafflement, he explained that he had made a service request to HP the day before just prior to my call. I did the only thing I could do: I took the calculator and told Chris I would see what I could do. But before walking out the door, I asked, “Would you like to know about our MRP and CRM systems so I can learn what works for you and what we might need to change?”

Amazingly, it was the first that Chris had heard that the system was going to be replaced even though it was so integral to his team’s ability to support customers. “Why are changes being considered?” he asked. I shared what I knew, but left without presenting our solution. Heading out the door with a ratty calculator in my hand, I knew I’d achieved exactly none of my goals with Chris.

Armed with the tattered calculator, I put a call into a friend in HP’s calculator division.

She agreed to help, and I sent her the calculator. A week later, the calculator was returned with all brand-new parts – except for the battered back plate engraved with “Chris.” That day, I walked into Chris’ office bearing the resurrected calculator. He was overjoyed, acting like a kid on his birthday. He couldn’t stop thanking me.

Since I was there, I again inquired whether he wanted to learn more about our MRP/CRM solutions. “It was very fortuitous that we met because I learned they were going to eliminate stuff we absolutely need,” Chris told me. “I stopped them and told them to talk with you.” He gave me his mandatory needs that weren’t currently on the list of requirements. As we parted, he told me to call him if I thought there was any chance he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. Odd since I was just a salesperson but he later told me that the way I adapted to the calculator issue earned me all kinds of trust and credibility.

This was certainly a success for me, but it wasn’t all good news.

My actions made the IT and procurement teams furious and they tried to ban me from ever stepping foot in their company again. Still, it worked out in the end because the IT director told me later that if I hadn’t gotten input from Chris they would have made serious mistakes. The result was that we got the business and I had a career-long, mutually beneficial relationship with Chris and the IT procurement director.

Remember: Success comes when you have the right VISABILITY with the right people, at the right time. You should clearly communicate your agenda before the meeting, but you must adapt to the situation to make your win their win.

Tell how you’ve adapted to an unexpected situation that resulted in a win for you and your customer? Please share below.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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