Each lesson is a direct personal experience. My 45 year career was packed with memorable happenings, but the people – whether colleagues or customers – taught me there was a right way to do good business, whilst making friends and helping organisations grow and prosper along the way.

The Curve Ball

A meeting was set up with an installer of security systems (CCTV/Intruder Alarms etc) in the south of England. My company was a specialist supplier of business management software to this market, so this was a typical situation where a sales inquiry had been made, and I would arrive with my laptop to show and discuss the system with the Directors, and in this case, the lady who was responsible for managing the company’s accounts and administration functions. I had also invited a prospective agent who might work on our behalf in the south of England, to help generate additional business and thereby ease my burden.

I sat next to the lady (so that she could see the system information on the computer screen), with the two directors opposite us, and my guest at the end of the table, listening and hopefully learning. All was progressing normally until about 5 minutes in, where the conversation took a strange turn:

Director 1: Robert, can I just stop you there?

Me: Of course, what can I help with?

Director 1: Could you stop staring at her breasts, please – it’s very rude. (sharp intake of breath and open mouth from my guest at the end of the table)

Me: (trying to assess the situation quickly) I didn’t realise that I was….. but they are particularly lovely. (Yes, I know that it could all have gone very wrong at this moment, but I made a judgement call based upon my existing perceptions of those around the table)

Lady: (laughing) Just ignore them, Robert – they’re always doing this – it’s their way of sussing you out

Director 1: (smiling) Carry on, Robert, you’re doing fine – as good an answer as I’ve ever had

At the end of the meeting, they agreed to purchase the proposed system, helped in no small measure by the ‘lady’ and her forthright attitude to wanting it. Friends all round at the end, and no further curve balls to dodge…..

The Moral

I’ve had many examples of people trying to trip me up – some on my industry knowledge, and some more malicious ones, and even the odd strange one like the above example. I learned that you have to be prepared for anything, and calmness and presence of mind only come with age and experience.

Also, you will never know as much about your customer’s business as they do, so never ever pretend that you do, as you’ll soon be found out and sent packing. Do make sure that they understand your areas of expertise, and how you can apply those to any given situation. It worked for me – I always said why it was important that they got ME as part of the deal. Of course, you always have the luxury of choice in the matter, and I have backed out of many prospective sales situations, after seeing that the two parties’ respective aims were incompatible with a long, friendly and profitable relationship. Telling people that is almost as rewarding as winning a contract.