Check the Big Picture (Issue 850)

In which we are reminded to look at the “big picture” (in addition to tasks at hand) when we’re preparing for sales calls.

A gorgeous warm October Friday afternoon (in the warmest October on record in Boston). Cloudless sky. Light breeze with a few gusts from the Southeast. To celebrate, I bolted from the office early and headed to the Community Boating dock on the Charles, looking forward to an hour of sailing to wrap up a busy week.

When I arrived at the dock, I saw one of the Sailing Center’s 15’ Cape Cod Mercury sail boats moored and ready to go. Someone else had finished their sailing time and left the boat for the next member to use.

After checking in, I grabbed my life jacket, headed to the boat, and ran through the standard Sailing Center pre-launch check list. Centerboard – Down. Boom vang – loose. Rudder – in place. Mainsheet – off the cleat. Clew – well tied. Wind – at that point, blowing toward the dock from the river. Everything looked good.

I hauled up the mainsail and tightened the boom vang. Ready to go, I cast off from the dock and sat down, reaching for the mainsheet.

Immediately, I could see a problem. The mainsheet (which controls the boom and, thus, the sail) was seriously tangled, dramatically limiting boom mobility. The boat was not sailable.

Pointing the boat upwind, I retreated to the stern of the boat to diagnose the situation. For about three minutes, I picked and pulled, moving lines one way and then another. I couldn’t see the solution.

I sat down, again, and pushed the boom to windward, backing the Mercury to the dock.

“Want some help?”, called a voice from behind my sail.

“Yes, please,” I replied.

The dock master tied the boat to the dock and came aboard. After muttering to himself for about 30 seconds, he said, “The last person to use the boat pulled the sheet through the pulley the wrong way all the way to the end.” With a few pulls, he corrected the problem, smiled, and disembarked. ‘”Have a good sail,” he said, and pushed me away from the dock.

I’m not exactly a rookie in a sailboat and I’d made a rookie mistake. I was so eager to get out on the water that I assumed that the last person who used the boat had left everything in order…. and they hadn’t. I’d done the standard pre-launch check list … which also assumes that the lines are all in the right place… and they weren’t. Long story short, I hadn’t looked at the “big picture” of the boat to make sure it was water-worthy… and it wasn’t.

OK, won’t make that mistake again. Happily, there were no unhappy consequences.

I’ve noticed this when people prepare for sales calls. Focused on a particular task and short on preparation time, they whip through pre-call plans for their targeted tasks and head for the door.

Better just to pull up for a moment to look at the big picture of the client company and the client relationship, rather than assuming everything is where we left it. Kinda hurts to get into the meeting and have the client say “oh, we’ve announced a merger” or “gee, we’ve just launched a new efficiency initiative” or whatever – catching us unprepared for our “sails” calls.

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