It Should Have Been Easy (Issue 547)

In which we are reminded to plan ahead…and confirm…before our sales calls.

It should have been an easy drive.  Several years earlier, I’d driven from the airport to my client’s off-site conference center multiple times, navigating the inner and outer beltways around the city from memory.

On this particular morning, several years later, catching myself just briefly at a traffic light before merging onto the Interstate from the airport, I thought, “Well, just to be sure, I’ll use my electronic navigator to guide me.”  I punched in the location, 3500 Tailwind Boulevard, Berlong [all names changed to protect the innocent], and off I  went. Plenty of time. Beautiful morning.

I felt a moment’s unease when the navigator directed me past what felt like the exist I should take, and I followed the navigator. Following…following….following… this doesn’t look like the right neighborhood… …following…. And I ended up in front of a community center …at exactly the address I’d punched in… 3500 Tailwind Boulevard, Berlong.

I punched it in again. “You have arrived at your destination. Your destination is on the right,” came the reply.

Burning precious minutes, I called my client’s cell phone. No answer.  I called her assistant.  No answer.  I called one of her colleagues. No answer. I called one of my colleagues. No answer. I  called the main switchboard at the client’s company. Couldn’t help. I called a lawyer (seriously!) who lived in the city for directions. No luck.

I pulled the car shifter into “drive” and headed back toward the airport, thinking I might see a sign, a landmark, something that would tell me which way to go. My socks felt cold.

I called another colleague – she answered. Her laptop was creakingly slow (following the “law of diminishing responsiveness” which tells us that the processing speed of any computer or hand-held device declines in inverse proportion to changes in the level of stress we are experiencing).

For 45 minutes, she navigated for me on the phone as I drove.  Finally, following her instructions,  I arrived at the correct meeting location at 3500 Tailwind Boulevard, in  Quonset…. 10 minutes late.

It turns out…. that the official, legal, web-navigable  address of the conference center is in Quonset… while the mailing address, everyday street address (on all of the company’s literature, etc. etc.), is in Berlong.  It was as if, to get to “two o’clock” on the clock, I’d started at “one o’clock” and driven all the way around the clock counter-clockwise to reach “two o’clock” when, in fact I had been only one exit away.

But, I thought I could do it from memory and from landmarks along the way. Experience.

After we reach a certain level of seasoning in sales, we rely more and more on experience. “Yup, we’re calling on an electronics distributor today.  Typical problems are inventory turns and margins. Usually some seasonal cash flow issues and strong interest in CapEx to automate the warehouse.”  Quick check of the company’s web site …. Zip, zap… “yup, looks pretty typical”… and off we go…

…only to find out as we’re driving through the call that some of familiar landmarks aren’t there, or there’s a detour, or that our client or prospect is headed in a completely different direction. .

On the road,  we reduce this risk through  pre-trip research – a map … and a trip plan – step by step directions confirmed with the client ahead of time, “Beltway East to Beltway South to Exit 47 to Tailwind Boulevard, second light, turn left.”

In “sales land,” we reduce this risk through pre-call research – a call plan…. and an agenda, step by step points, confirmed with the client ahead of time.

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