When you only have one shot (or two, or three) to make a great impression
“Can you accommodate a flying probe demo on Friday the 13th?
“Very auspicious time. Big customer. You would know their name immediately if I told you. Huge opportunity that could stretch on for several years. Multiple machine installations at several sites worldwide. This is a Big Deal. Maybe the deal of the decade.”
I thought of four prominent names. He told me the name. I guessed right. Splendid. They do so much for humanity.
My sarcasm aside, who am I to judge? This is business, I say to myself with a gimlet eye, and I’m most definitely in the business of helping our Partner sell machines. Banish sentimentality, and two heroic cheers for capitalism. Only two. Still wishing in the course of transacting this deal that a way can be found to repatriate some of the money this icon of technology has spirited away from our shores these past 20 years. All in the name of being cool, which justifies all things.
“They will send seven to eight people, plus their Team Leader. (This company doesn’t refer to Persons In Authority as managers. That would not be kosher. They have egalitarian pretensions to safeguard. A brand is a brand. That insistent coolness factor. You mess with it at your peril.)
The Requestor was one of our closest supplier partners. Said Partner gives us favorable deals on the latest and greatest test equipment; in exchange, we occasionally open our doors to our Partner’s best, or potentially best, customers for demonstrations and other marketing galas. This was to be the biggest gala of all, which is why the President of our Partner was calling me personally six weeks in advance to secure the date and time. Point taken.
“We’ll need one of your machines for at least one, possibly two days. Two factory engineers will arrive the night before the demo to run system checks and calibrations, and to ensure the demo program runs correctly. Nothing is being left to chance; everything must work. We get one shot. For scheduling purposes, assume we’ll need your machine half of the afternoon before the demo to do the dress rehearsal, and definitely all day on the day of the demo.”
Roger that. You say jump….
“Of course, with such a large group, you can pull out all the stops and show them your facility and your entire suite of capabilities. An unprecedented opportunity. Full bells and whistles. Complete win-win. We get to sell a system. You get to showcase everything you do. Who knows what the magnitude of the knockoff effects will be, but they can only be positive!”
The notion had occurred to me.
“We will confirm timing and projected attendees with you one to two weeks out. Please keep Thursday afternoon the 12th and all day Friday the 13th available for our use.”
Yes, sir. We put a big colored block the size of Alaska on the calendar.
Fast forward five weeks. It’s D-Day plus 5 days. Total radio silence until now. I’m traveling in New York, visiting another key supplier partner. Cellphone rings as I’m emerging, belching and somnolent from a lunch meeting. It’s the factory engineer who has been designated to lead the demo, calling long distance.
“The customer insists they will have seven to eight people, but now they only have time to meet with us from 12:30-4 p.m. on Friday. They will then have to leave for a meeting. They believe this is sufficient time to learn from the demo, ask pertinent questions, and obtain essential information to make a purchasing decision. The survey team is really smart and picks things up fast. This diminished schedule will, regrettably, force us to compress our presentation. We will reduce the salesmanship and stress the technical advantages.”
Do you need a projector or a television screen from us?
“Yes, either would be helpful for our overview, before we start the actual demo.”
We have the projector. We go out and buy the TV. Forearmed.
D plus 3 days.
“Can we log in remotely to your test system from the factory to allow one of our factory engineers to do a test run of the demo program? We need to be certain there are no operating system incompatibilities. As we’ve said, everything must be perfect.”
Certainly. Because this customer is perfect. No change to schedule. No change to expected attending personnel. One dry run to make sure the wet run goes off without a hitch. A lot riding on this. Access remotely away.
D plus 2 days. Another call from The Factory.
“Remote system checkout was good. No anomalies. We are boarding our flight for California this evening. We will see you tomorrow when we install and double-check the program.”
Give my regards to the TSA.
D plus 1 day.
“Bad news. The customer now says he will arrive at 12 rather than 12:30 p.m., but he can only stay for 30 minutes. Then he needs to leave for a meeting that will last until 2:30 p.m. He is willing to come back after that if we need to resume our presentation, but he’s hoping we will be able to bulletize the essential takeaways into 30 minutes, so he doesn’t have to return.”
Super. You flew all the way from the Mother Country for this?
“Oh, and he now has no idea whether the seven to eight members of his team will show up for the demonstration. He also does not know if those who will show up need to leave early as well for meetings of their own.”
Because they’re important. Doing important work. The kind that means you never have to apologize. Ever.
The day dawns.
“More bad news. The Team Leader is the only one confirmed to attend. The rest of the team has been rescheduled to attend a mandatory all-hands meeting at their facility this afternoon, so they will not be available. We will have only the Team Leader from 12-12:30 p.m., and again from 3 p.m. until 4 or 4:30 p.m. This is most unfortunate.”
No, it’s a common business practice. Where’ve you been? Welcome to Silicon Valley. They do what they do because they can.
In situations like these my mind drifts to an imagined wide-angled shot of a wagon train in a John Ford western, entering from the right, progressing across the desert, mesas in the background, as the Apache arrows and repeating rifles pick off one wagon after another, until a small rump of a caravan is left, exiting left, with severely diminished expectations, and no happy Hollywood ending.
Stroke of noon, the Exalted Personage graces our lobby with his presence. It’s always a He: Jeans. T-shirt. Harvey Weinstein facial stubble. A physique suggesting abundant knowledge of cheeseburgers. Limp handshake. Minimal eye contact. Brogrammer catchphrases. We’re utterly thrilled to have him as our guest.
Our imported hosts from the EU skip the marketing PowerPoint and go straight to the demo. In a Renaissance masterpiece performance of verbal conciseness, the technical sales pitch is accomplished using exclusively single-syllable words. Two test runs, 27 questions, and 29 minutes later, the Great Man departs, self-satisfied, to his next appointment. He firmly assures us no others are coming in the interim, and that he will return to once again bask in his own glow in approximately two hours and 16 minutes.
On the strength of the Great Man’s authority, we stand down. Our visiting hosts look famished. I tell them to take advantage of the situation, and urge them to step out, regroup and grab some lunch. For some reason the thought hits me to request their cellphone numbers before they leave, just in case.
Just in case happens 15 minutes later. Two 28-somethings materialize in our lobby. Only first names. Same uniform as the Great Man. Same attitude.
“We’re here for the demo. Our Team Leader told us to be here at this time.”
Characteristically, no business cards, and no company name shared, or volunteered. This meeting never happened.
“We do not know if any others are coming.”
Our exasperated hosts come hurtling back through the front door, mumbling in a strange combination of English and European, through half-eaten bread and peanut butter.
The PowerPoint starts. Or rather, it commences in starts and fits.
Because 30 minutes later, it is interrupted by the arrival of two more persons. Same appearance.
Fifteen minutes later, two more Golden Children arrive. They look surprised that we are surprised.
“Is this where the demo is being held? We’re (unintelligible) from (unintelligible).”
None of them smile. None of them volunteer a thing. They just sit there around the conference table. Jokes fail. Attempted small talk fails.
“Here we are now, entertain us.”
The PowerPoint starts a third time. It runs this time for 45 minutes. No questions.
“Here we are now, entertain us.”
The Team Leader returns. He looks surprised to see six white and Asian male faces staring back at him, expressionless, in our conference room.
The group evacuates the conference room, grabs smocks, and follows its itinerant hosts to the floor. Seven millennials ask questions, talking over one another. Questions get trounced over. There is much gesticulation from our hosts, none from the millennials. I’m not sure if the sandwich was ever fully consumed. That’s what 11-hour flights home are for.
The meeting ends. Our hosts are beaming, doing their utmost to fake sincerity in that Old World style. Their Very Important Guests remain expressionless.
Their leader, the Great Man, makes a point of taking me aside as they exit. “It was a great demo,” he tells me, clearly struggling to mask his emotion. No apologies are offered for the erratic scheduling.