Distracted (Issue 467)

In which we're reminded of the value of periodically reviewing our clients and accounts so that we're not surprised by changes..

West Concord Village has been the industrial end of our Revolutionary War historic “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” town since the 18th century. “Upper crusters” lived in Concord Center. Workers lived in West Concord.

In the old days, West Concord was called “the Junction” because four rail lines intersected here. The one remaining line now carries commuter rail traffic from Fitchburg inbound to Boston and from Boston outbound to Fitchburg, stopping at the West Concord station, 100 yards down the tracks that run close behind Clarity’s offices.

Eager for an afternoon stroll and a bite of something tasty from a store on the other side of the tracks, I ambled down the path from our offices toward the rail crossing at the train station, tracks to my immediate left, cell phone to my left ear, talking to a colleague, watching the commuter train from Boston coming toward me into the West Concord station.

As commuters poured from the rumbling and now motionless outbound train, I reached the rail crossing. Road and sidewalk barriers were down, stopping automobile and pedestrian traffic, but the train had stopped short of them to my right. The coast was clear! My goodies awaited me, a mere 30 yards across the tracks.

Still engaged in my cell phone conversation, I turned left around the pedestrian barrier to cross the tracks and …. BOOP – BOOP – BOOP … a train horn from my left!! Startled, I snapped my head to my left, and spotted the inbound train from Fitchburg three heart-beats away, rolling directly at me. My left foot was 3 feet from the tracks.

I jumped back. As the inbound train passed, I tried to look very cool about it, but I knew, as the train engineer knew, that I had been 1 step and 1 second short of not writing any more columns.

My focus on the low rumbling noise from the motionless, idling outbound train engine, the pleasant breeze, and my cell phone conversation distracted me. I did not hear the incoming train.

Distracted. Nearly blind sided. Shaking.

This happens in our accounts, too. We focus on an opportunity, on a buying center, on the comfort of a long standing relationship, and we miss the “train” that’s closing in, unheard, from behind; we get blindsided by another vendor or an internal project team or changes in budgets or priorities.

The second word in the standard rail crossing sign is “Look.” Stop, LOOK, and listen. Had I LOOKED both ways, I would have seen the incoming train From a sales point of view, ‘looking both ways” means something like conducting quarterly or semiannual reviews of key accounts – their challenges, profitability, cash flow, internal initiatives, people, use of other vendors, goals, and strategies – pausing to think about the implications of the changes around us and develop new strategies to address them.

Long story short, there’s a lot of traffic on the sales rails. We can’t depend on our clients to BOOP their horns to warn us when conditions change.

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