The 30 second exchange that got me quarterly meetings with Michael Dell

I posted an earlier blog about capturing the customer’s interest in 30 seconds.
I talked about preparing a set of 30-3-30 (30 second, 3 minute, 30 minute) exchanges that readies you for any opportunity to gain VisABILITY and CredABILITY with a customer through a short conversation.

This blog is about one of my 30 second opportunities that resulted in very valuable quarterly meetings with Michael Dell.

In July 2000, I was assigned to be Director of the Dell team in Microsoft’s OEM Division. I started in September with a quick on-ramp because in that first month we had a meeting between Steve Ballmer and Kevin Rollins (President of Dell). The team and I had to prepare, when I had little to no knowledge of Dell. Somehow we got through it without Steve firing me and I spent the next few months getting to know the key players in Austin, Europe and Asia.

At the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we scheduled a meeting with Michael Dell, who I had yet to meet, to discuss new products both companies were bringing to market.

We had a number of executives from both companies joining the discussion. Dell’s Alliance Director, Leslie Sobon, and I, showed up 30 minutes early to make sure everything was set.

(Note: Leslie was very smart and we pushed each other to ensure all our programs were beneficial for both companies. You want these kinds of relationships in all sales situations.)

About 10 minutes before the meeting was to start the door opens and in walks Michael… by himself. Leslie introduced us and then excused herself to get the other Dell executives. I made a quick call to our executives confirming they were on their way. I hung up the phone and it was just me and Michael.

I had prepared my 30-3-30, not thinking I’d be using it with Michael, but out of habit I started my prepared 30 second exchange on China, which I knew was important to him. In those 30 seconds, I confirmed our joint investments, reviewed what Leslie and I had observed on a visit to China and raised concerns we had. Michael asked for details. I explained some differences in the ways Chinese consumers bought electronics and that we needed to make adjustments for Dell’s model to work. He asked what we were considering and as I started to answer, all the other executives walked into the room, thus ending our conversation… or so I thought.

We did introductions and while everyone was getting seated I told Leslie what we’d discussed in the 3-5 minutes she was gone. We agreed to discuss later.

Everyone was seated so Leslie and I introduced the agenda, then I introduced Microsoft’s product executive who was going to present the first topic. He got as far as “thank you” when Michael stopped the meeting saying, “Rick and I weren’t quite finished talking. I’d like to finish that before we go on.”

We finished our discussion allowing Leslie to add her observations as well. That went on for about five minutes and ended with Michael saying he liked our thinking, and that he wanted an update from the two of us in three months. We took notes and turned our attention back to the room. Then Michael added, “Actually, I think it would be good if you two gave me an update every quarter.”

That total discussion was less than 10 minutes but it started with the preparation of the 30-3-30. In that short exchange we accomplished the following:

  • Articulated a business situation that was important to Michael
  • Identified a problem
  • Suggested plausible solutions, that were aligned between me and Dell’s Alliance Director
  • Ended the conversation with Michael wanting to know more​​


It’s important to prepare that 30 second exchange as you never know when you’ll need it. Preparing and customizing your 30-3-30 is part of the training you get from The Five Abilities®. Let us know if we can help.

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