Conversations

I punched the hotel into TomTom and pointed the nose of my aging Audi towards the end of the driveway and towards, in fact, just the beginning of our shared 365-mile journey.  Jane, the voice of TomTom, prepared and thought and planned and warned me as best she could, usually a half-mile in advance, of intersections and of their imminence given my current pace, and she advised me and suggested when to turn right and when to turn left and of when the highway would split ahead and even of which lanes it would be best for me to stay in.  Together, Miss Jane and I made our way south from my home in Maine, the remoteness of which many consider to represent, and speak volumes about, me (and I cannot disagree with them). Heading downwest, we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge and in turn traversed the No-Man’s-Land of Interstate 95 in New Hampshire that is evermore, for me, in addition to a convenient pair of state-subsidized liquor stores, a protective barrier from civilization (as its inhabitants refer to it) and a place to visit and a place to return from as best I might and as soon as I may.  West, south, into the dark we went, over turnpike and Berkshire, through hamlet and along parkway, and even across major bays on tolled bridges to reach eventually our hotel.*

I had a customer to see the next day.

Come the morning, I arrived and met up with a Pre-Sales colleague, he new to the company though no stranger to enterprise solutions — so the background indicates — and he was here as he was curious to observe me and take note of my methods and audit the meeting and generally make himself useful as best he could by bringing water or making safe observations or, best yet, by being quiet when he felt he needed to be, which turned out to be most of the time, as it was, after all, my audience and my messaging and my meeting, really.

Together we were greeted by our host from IT, who had called together as an audience his underlings and his overlings, and his business liaison who was his and our crucial relation for the meeting, a direct and sharp and successful form of not-quite-executive but focused and trained on it and recalling for me no one so much as the lady detective on the television police show who plays the mind games and uses the leverage and finds the hidden clues and is your friend and enemy all at once yet manages in the end to get her “perp” behind bars, and he brought as well his overseas overlords from higher up in the conglomerate, who spoke not fluently our language but were there of courtesy and coincidence and just a smidgeon of curiosity and could perhaps tell from the tone of conversation and the dancing colors on the screen whether it was bullshit I was slinging their way or if it was in fact a form of genuine and authentic truth and discussion rolling about the room through the hours.  As they trickled in and shared their good humor and clichéd self-deprecations regarding their unusual names and delighting to inform us of where it was they called for themselves their homes and allowed for us to do the same and make for our homelands and our general welfare our excuses which served after a fashion to break the ice, I shook their hands singly and confidently (not overly firm, not vice-like, not dominantly, and of course not weakly or uncertainly or even after the fashion of a dead fish, as we all know that to be pathetic, thanks to those talks given at a Dale Carnegie course or explained to us by Dad, Grandpa, Uncle Matt or — heaven forbid — Mr. Tryon, the junior high basketball coach ) and looked them in the eye after my introductory fashion and preshot routine, which endeavors to convey, with its smile and its integrated and already discussed shake, that I mean you no harm, I won’t tell you what it is you should be thinking, I won’t tell you what to do or how to do it unless my advice is requested or evidently sought.  I can be trusted, for I am trustworthy.  I’m here for you, my time is yours and your time is valuable.

Let’s enjoy the conversation today.

And so we began with the elephant in the room.  Or at least a picture on the screen of an elephant in a room.  I like to be clear and communicative (it’s the prime skill-set by which we in Pre-Sales earn our keep) and so had the image of the elephant and of the room as precursor and humor and metaphor and agenda and icebreaker all in one, and the elephant served us well as to the purpose of our conversation and goal for the day.  That is, we needed to get the elephant about our business and about our solutions out of the room before our conversations could become much deeper.

At one point during the day I made reference to this, remarked upon the depth of conversation we could in the future have, this depth of conversation which could explore the business process and system capability and transactional integrity and cost savings and service and growth and breadth and depth of their own customers’ experiences and of the overall and astonishing transformation our systems could help them achieve whereas the depth of the conversations they could have with our competition were in fact not deep but shallow, could not in fact approach the depth, breadth, and readiness our solutions could provide and I wondered aloud wouldn’t, in fact, those conversations be lovely to have when I was treated to a response by the crucial relation, she the lady-detective, she of the expensive cut of hair and with the brightly colored and distinctive ladies-executive-apparel, she of the Lexus and of the Lexus customer experience and Lexus customer concern and Lexus customer intimacy which she obviously enjoyed and was thrilled to share with us the merits of and happy to be a paying member for, a Lexus-like customer experience she so clearly desired to bring to her own international conglomerate’s customers despite the nature of her conglomerate’s wares, being as they as a conglomerate are in the main manufacturers and leaser’s of office equipment and associated services whereby I’m not sure her customers, office managers as they are, would ever think to be thrilled to be recognized for Lexus-like distinction and Lexus-like taste and of Lexus-like selectivity for the decisions they had made on her, the crucial-business liaison’s conglomerate’s office equipment when it was truly a decision in a pressure-sale in a tight-budget situation, that they had made.  No, the crucial business-liaison’s conglomerate’s customers’ decisions aren’t quite in the same league in terms of respect and impressing upon of people-that-you-meet-at-cocktail-parties as those Lexus-lady had experienced in her personal Lexus-leasing and Lexus-trade-in-to-the-next-model experiences.  No, office equipment and assorted Lexi ownership experiences don’t reach quite the same heights in the gestalt-o-sphere.

“Well,” she remarked to me in a remarkably pedagogical manner, “aren’t we having deep conversations now?” to which I returned a frank and sheepish smile as if it had been me the one confused or lost in the conversation, and behind which which I kept to myself my opinion that no, I don’t think we’re even scratching the surface yet, though in the passing of time I do believe the depths will be plumbed and the business processes will be explored and the system capabilities will be made manifest and the transactional integrity will be validated and with them the cost savings, service, growth and their own customer’s experiences which will be made in due time.  But truly she was right; the conversation was deeper than that which had passed previously, over the phone and over the web-meetings and over the brief calls of business discussion my profession likes to call ‘discovery’ and which my peers in sales sometimes refer to as unnecessary when providing a demonstration stages simply as an overview.

After the elephant had been dispatched with, and an analogy about the ease of teaching to any old fool in a matter of seconds Chop-Sticks, a simple song by anyone’s reckoning, upon the piano, reckoned again by all to be a difficult instrument to master, and how that analogy could be be applied with ease and favorably to my own solutions, and after that analogy was considered and agreed to by all present, I proceeded to demonstrate my solutions themselves in a straightforward, honest manner and with a soothing, confident voice, which, much like my handshake and much like my smile that goes along with it, conveys nothing less  than honesty and sincerity.  Which is a good thing, as honest and sincere and genuine is what I aim to be.

The conversation had from here some fits and starts and questions and answers and head-scratching and breakthroughs as my audience concentrated their energies to understand what I was saying and to correlate it with what I was showing which is alright with me in that what I was saying and what I was showing and how it the two were correlated was something they had not considered or experienced, had not previously had occasion to see or hear before and therefore took some time to sink in.  The IT underlings and overlings presently had their opinions to share, tossed their contributions into the conversation.  Our own industry expert wove into the conversation snippets of his industry expertise and positive experiences and quotations from the IT overlings and underlings of other conglomerates in markets not so dissimilar from the present conglamerate in the room, though farther down the path of value-realization.  The oversea overlord event contributed what might have been a nugget of oversea wisdom to the discussion in our own language, and although the conversation paused respectfully to consider it, soon enough it picked back up the steam it had lost to the oversea nugget and went on its merry way.  Over the course of the afternoon, what I showed and what I said became less and less important as, with a turn of the tide, what they said and what they saw grew more and more important to them and became by steps the focus of the conversation and truly they culminated by picking up a metaphorical football and running with it of their own volition until they scored for themselves a metaphorical touchdown in their own minds and celebrated among themselves with metaphorical touchdown-dances and metaphorical ball-spiking and follow-up metaphorical high-fiving.

“The meeting was a success,” remarked my tag-team Sales Representative, who allowed how this wasn’t the first time I had turned an account around and I thanked him with humility, as to turn accounts around is what I do, and to converse and to show and to move elephants from rooms and make analogies about pianos and footballs is evermore the joy I gain from being the center of attention in a meeting, I who does the preparation and the thinking and the positioning and the analogies and conveys it all in the moment as a matter of course.  And so with my genuine voice, for it is genuine, I thanked him for his thanks, and with my smile and its integrated shake, also genuine, we parted ways until next week or the week after, whenever is the next stop, the next chance to repeat the conversation for a different conglomerate and their IT staff and their overlings and underlings and their crucial Lexus-enamored business liaisons and their overseas overlords and the purse-strings the overseas overlords clutch and care for and open from time to time in order to allow my business and my systems and my solutions make better their world while providing for me a commission paid quarterly which makes better my world.

We bid our adieus and until-next-times and I got back into the aged Audi with no time for lunch, with much to do, with a see-you-next-week-at-the-kickoff-meeting, and requested of Jane, she the voice of TomTom until Yoda do I download would she guide me home, if she could, with a stop here for gas and a stop there for food.

Another sales call.

*Should you find the style of this prose humorous, I highly recommend the novels of T.R. Pearson, from whom I derived the inspiration.

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