There’s More to the Picture (Issue 631)

In which we are encouraged to look more broadly than our immediate buyers when we’re selling.

The 6:00 am view from our host’s 16th floor apartment, looking north over Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan from North Avenue, was spectacular. Air cleared by Friday night’s crashing thunderstorms, the Park trees cast long shadows and Lake Michigan sparkled in the early morning sun, the smooth blue surface punctuated with a dozen small, bright patches as early rising sailors enjoyed light morning breeze.

Far enough above North Clark Street that we heard only hints of traffic noise, the scene spread like a broad landscape we might see hanging in the Art Institute later in the day.

Our visit to Chicago was an exploration – my opportunity to introduce my daughter to Chicago as a possibility for post-college residence. OK, it was a sales trip. I was pitching the City to her, hoping she might seriously consider Chicago as she developed her plans.

After a leisurely walk down tree-canopied North Dearborn Street to Division, our eyes wide as we inspected one after another of the late 19th Century homes (“These are BEAUTIFUL!”), we filled ourselves with Saturday breakfast (“I love this place!”) and walked north through Lincoln Park, through the Lincoln Park Zoo, through the Conservatory, and through the neighborhoods in which I’d lived decades before (“I could see myself living here!”).

We then turned south to walk along the Lake Michigan to Oak Street (“I really like this place!”), rode a bus to Millennium Park and the Art Institute (“This is the BEST!”), followed by dinner with Dad friends.

Refilling ourselves Sunday morning, we took a three hour walking tour of Art Deco office buildings in the Loop (“Amazing!”), followed by a slow walk past Miracle Mile Michigan Avenue shops, a quick return visit to the Oak Street Beach (“I could definitely see myself coming here, often!”), and a walk under North State Street’s trees to retrieve our bags and snag a cab for the ride to Midway airport.

The ride to Midway revealed a different view of Chicago. Gold Coast mansions and Loop Art Deco gave way to miles of light- to mid-industrial buildings, strip malls, chain eateries, factories, warehouses, and three-story brick homes, row on row. Plenty of Carl Sandburg’s Chicago – “…Tool Maker… Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler…husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.” My daughter and I were largely silent during the ride, feeling a little edgy about making our plane (yeah, we cut it pretty close), and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer expanse of the harder scrabble landscape.

A sales trip to Chicago. I had shown her some of the City’s finest moments and places and she was drawn to them. Had she closed her eyes during our cab ride, she would have remembered the only the Loop, the Near North, and the Gold Coast. Not a balanced view of her possible future home.

We must address this balance, too, when we are working major accounts, certainly, and also smaller ones.

If we look and listen only to the people who present themselves as buyers or to whom our buyers introduce us, we may see only their narrow or rose-colored or protective views of their companies – fine parks and beautiful lakes with “only this problem over here with which we need your help.”

Whether our buyers’ colleagues are few or many, they, too,  may be reluctant to reveal details of daily conflicts, dysfunctions, gaps, and politics in which they work, dismissing them blithely, saying, “You don’t need to worry about those things, we’ll tell you what you need to know.” Or words to that effect.

Depending on what we sell, that may be right. Perhaps, if we’re selling a lock box to the company Controller or Assistant Treasurer, we don’t need to know that the West Region Manager and the East Region Manager are at each others’ throats and that they, together, make life miserable for the VP of Manufacturing who, in turn, is hiding problems in the plant. Or, on a smaller scale, that the people in the shop hate their manager, the owner’s eldest son. Those are just details, yes? No need to worry about those things, right?

Depends what we’re selling…. and, if we take in only the “lakes and trees” view that our buyers share, our recommendations may be insufficient and our impact muted.

The Gold Coast is seductively beautiful and exciting and, if my daughter returns to Chicago for a second visit, I hope she wanders the City broadly, reads its histories, and more fully absorbs the enormous sweep and range of its neighborhoods, challenges, and accomplishments.

We, too,  need, somehow, to get out and wander around a bit.…. there’s almost always more to the picture.


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