As we completed our discussion of contract terms and conditions, he looked me straight in the face.
“We are looking forward to our work with you,” he said, “but let me tell you something. We work now with about 1200 vendors…. A year from now, 900.
If you have not thought about our goals and challenges, if you have not brought us ideas, then it is likely you won’t be among them. If you haven’t pushed us when we ignored you, if you haven’t told us that we are on the wrong track when we are on the wrong track, then it is likely you won’t be among them.”
I shifted uncomfortably, eager to prove we could, at the same time wondering, “How are we going to do that?”
Hours later, I got the point: He was asking, “Are you willing to live in the question, ‘How are we going to do that?’ every day, just as he does?” Not just for a few moments on the odd Wednesday, to think about selling his company something, as a vendor.
Rather, to THINK in a serious way about his challenges and live in the question, “How are we going to do that?”, every day.
Staring down at autumn oranges and browns 35,000 feet below me, I thought, “This should be no surprise, right? This is just the new reality: Fewer vendors, more self-service, solutions rather than “products.” Vendor margins crushed. Vendors eliminated.”
I was reminded of one of my favorite thoughts, written by Gary Hamel in his book, Strategies. He wrote, “Sure, you can grow today but only if you bring something unexpected and exciting to your customers.”
For most of us, the “unexpected and exciting” isn’t going to be something our employers give us. Not like products we sell out of a bag.
It’s going to be something WE create, WE think, and WE do from our own experience – our ability to interpret what we hear, align our specialists and experts, and position our products and services in unexpected and exciting ways to provide solutions. In other words, our own initiative, volition, and commitment. It’s a choice.
Remember Hamlet? His soliloquy?
To be, or not to be – that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them.
Our choice is: Whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (of being product sellers, ‘vendors’) or to take arms (by choice) against a sea of (our clients’) troubles and, by opposing, end them.
It’s a choice that affects how we think, how we work, how we position ourselves, and what we do. On whose side of the table will we sit? Will we take arms with our clients against their seas of troubles… or will we not?
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