Wide of the Mark (Issue 582)

In which we are reminded to sell at multiple levels in larger organizations, not just at the business owner or “C” level.

“I can’t see,” bellowed our son.  I could believe that. All we could see was the bottoms of his 12 year old feet and legs as they dangled below the branch on which he was sitting mid-way up the tree.  He was pruning overgrown branches. We were the ground crew.

“Just drop the branches on the blue tarp as you cut them,” we called skyward. “It’s spread out on your side of the tree.”

“I can’t see the tarp. I don’t know whether I’m hitting it or not.”

“Well,” we said, “just drop one when you’ve cut it  and we’ll tell you which way to go.”

The first branch clumped down, ricocheting a little to the left of the tarp.

“How was that,” he called?

“Good,” we said!   “Next one a  little more to the right.”

The next branch clumped down a little to the right of the tarp.  And so it went. The tarp became a safety zone as pruned branches landed all around it, missing the mark each time.  “I can’t see” was the context for the afternoon.

Sometimes, as a business owner, I feel the same way when sales people ask me about various aspects of our company’s operations.  ‘Though our company is not “too big to fail,” we are big enough that “I can’t see” 90% of what happens in the company day to day.

Like the ground crew and the tarp below our son’s feet, I know my team is out there working,  but “I can’t see:” I’ve long lost track, for example,  of the steps we use to generate payroll, who we use to print materials, how we pay specific vendors – steps that I once knew from personal experience – and any challenges we are having with those.

When we are calling on companies that have grown beyond a few employees, we are taught, “Work with the business owner, work with the big cheese, work with the senior executive.” Depending on what we’re selling, that could be good counsel…. or maybe not.

In order to make any significant change in a company, we have to understand and earn the confidence of ground crew. It’s all very well for senior executives or business owners to announce their intentions or give orders or make requests.

But, we’ve all learned from personal corporate experience that orders or requests can backfire or go wide of the mark – wide of our day-to-day reality on the ground – just as our son’s branches missed the tarp (which was directly below him, for goodness sake!).

We have to earn the ground crew’s confidence and understand their perspective because, rather than say, “I can’t see” from high in the tree,  the senior cheeses will look at their teams and ask, “Are you good with this?”  And it’s their affirmative answer, “yes,” that ultimately moves the effort forward.

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