A Case Of Mistaken VisABILITY

Imagine a first meeting with a Fortune 100, Senior Vice President, to present a multi-million dollar computing solution, when he thought you were there to fix his calculator. It’s possible… at least with me.

​We were competing to replace the MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) system at a Fortune 100 company. The system was highly integrated with their CRM (Customer Resource Management) system, which meant the sales group was a stakeholder. I decided that meeting with their SVP of Sales (a.k.a. Chris) was necessary.

I called Chris’ office, introduced myself to his assistant saying I was from HP, and asked for an appointment with Chris. Instead of asking for a topic or agenda, the assistant loudly said, “It’s a guy from HP; do you want to see him?” Shockingly, Chris said, “Absolutely, tell him to come over as soon as he can.” The appointment was set for the next morning. I patted myself on the back because I’d gotten an appointment with a very high level decision maker who nobody from HP had ever met. Was I good or what?

The next morning I showed up five minutes early and had barely said hello to Chris’ assistant before Chris came out to greet me. As we walked into his office he said, “I gotta tell you, I’m surprised HP would actually send a person to come see me, and so quickly. I guess the things I read about HP service are true.” I thought that was strange but I was so excited about being there I didn’t give it much thought.

We sat down at his conference table. I thanked him for his time, pulled out my slides and began my presentation on our MRP system. About two minutes in, Chris stopped me and said, “Why are we talking about this? I thought you were here to fix my calculator.” He handed me a beat up, HP41C that didn’t work. He had called in a service request the day before. He explained that he’d had the calculator since college and that it had sentimental value. His name was engraved on the back and he had developed many cost estimating programs on it, when he was just a sales rep, and they were still in use. As you might expect, I was deflated, but I took the calculator and told Chris I’d see what I could do.

Since I was there, I asked him if he’d like to know about our MRP system so he’d understand our differentiation. Amazingly, this was the first he’d heard that the system was going to be replaced and because it was so integral to his team’s ability to support customers, he wanted to know why the changes were being considered. I educated him on their decision process but ended the meeting without presenting our solution. I walked out having accomplished none of my meeting goals and now I had to figure out what to do with his calculator.

I was friends with one of the marketing managers in HP’s calculator division and I immediately called her to see if she could help. I sent the calculator so she could assess the damage. A week later, the calculator showed up and it not only worked but it looked brand new except for the back plate where Chris’ name was engraved. My friend had her team replace everything but the back plate which was much easier than trying to fix it. This was a great example of HP customer service for both Chris, and what that team did for me.

I scheduled an appointment that day and walked in to Chris’ office with his calculator. He was like a kid on his birthday. He couldn’t stop thanking me. Since I was there, I wanted to see if he’d learned more about the decision process for the MRP system. He said, “It was very fortuitous that we met because they were going to eliminate stuff we absolutely need. I stopped them and told them to talk with you.” He gave me his mandatory needs that weren’t in the published request for proposal (RFP) and when we ended, he asked me to call him if I foresaw any chance he wasn’t going to get what he wanted.

The bad news? The IT and procurement teams were so mad they tried to ban me from ever stepping foot in their company again. However, one IT director told me later that if I hadn’t gotten input from Chris they would have made serious mistakes. In the end we got the business and I ended up with a career long relationship with Chris and that procurement director, which helped me many times over.

What was the learning? How do you have the right VisABILITY with the right people? 1) Always communicate your agenda before the meeting. 2) Adapt to the situation. 3) The best way to avoid getting stuck in procurement is to make your win their win.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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