Chasing the Train (Issue 508)

In which we are reminded that, if a competitor displaces us from a piece of business, we need to think ahead, be  ready to solve the next problem well enough that we win the next opportunity.

Clarity’s offices are about a three minute walk from the commuter rail station. VERY convenient when we’re traveling to Boston. We’re close enough to the station that I can start running toward the station as the first commuter rail car in a seven car train passes my office window and arrive in time to board the train, assuming there are a few passengers getting off, first.  I don’t do that as a rule, and I’m just saying…

Last week, headed for Boston, dressed in suit and dress shoes, I got started from my office a little late and, frankly, just did not make it.  I came heaving up to the boarding area about five seconds too late. The conductors had closed the boarding stairs and the train was rolling.

“Quick!” I thought. “What can you do?” The immediate thought was a combination of “I don’t want to drive my car into the city” and “Maybe I can drive to the next station and get there in time to board the train.”

On my best day, with no traffic, that would have been a losing race.

From the get-go, I was doomed. I did not leave the office early enough to reach the train. I was trying to cram too much other stuff into my day and, frankly, it went a little long. So, I left the office for the train already behind. The outcome was much the same as the effect of not planning calls or relationship development with a client – sometimes we miss the client train. Our client wants to take us along for the ride but picks another firm because the other firm had planned better and brought a better solution or, at least, a solution on time.

However, my panic response – “Maybe I can drive to the next station and get there in time to board the train” points the way to the solution, when in this fix.

If a competitor beats us out, very unlikely we’re going to stop that train. That train has left the station. The trick is to get ahead of the train to the next station and be ready to board. Translated, to stay in conversation with the prospect or client, see what’s coming next, and be there with new ideas for their new challenges when they are ready to address them.

While the current vendor may have an advantage, it’s not permanent. If we are generating new ideas for new problems the client faces, we have a chance to board and, perhaps, throw the competitor off the client train. Sweet victory!

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