Penetrating Oil (Issue 893)

In which we are reminded to develop client internal champions who can lubricate decision processes.

Long ago, in a garage far away… I owned a 1961 Studebaker Hawk. Of unknown heritage, it was retrieved from a mountain side in rural central Pennsylvania, 30 miles from my home, by a high school friend who was enamored with Studebakers; he had been influenced by our high school physics teacher who was a Studebaker nut – he owned and had restored several Studebakers to show room condition.

Just after I turned 17, I started looking for a car. My dad was pushing a Volkswagen bug. I wanted nothing to do with that. And my friend suggested a Studebaker so I, of course, said “yes!”

The restoration project took several months. While there was lots of rust to cut out and replace with sheet metal, wire mesh, pop rivets, and Bondo body putty, the biggest problems were underneath the car since it had been resting gently on a mountainside for several years. Lots of things were rusted together or frozen in place.

At the time of these repairs, my friend had a relationship with two brothers, Leonard and Donald Hassinger, who owned a garage in a nearby town. Built in the mid-1930s, the garage had been, at one point, the Studebaker dealership in the area, owned by their father. The Hassingers were kind enough to allow us to bring my car into their garage, put it up on a lift, and work on it. I think they looked forward to the entertainment.

My friend was a large man. As a senior in high school, he stood 6’4” tall and probably weighed 250 pounds. He was a weight lifter and a fairly accomplished shot putter and, as we began to address the issues with the undercarriage and the drivetrain, he taught me a very valuable lesson: “When in doubt, use a larger hammer.” The idea was, if something wouldn’t move when you gave it a reasonably good twist or pop with whatever tool you were using, you got a bigger hammer and hit it harder to unfreeze it.

There were two additional lessons that I, the 145-pound novice mechanic on the project, had to learn the hard way. First, before you hit something with a larger hammer, be clear about why it didn’t move with your first attempt (e.g. is it bolted in place?). The second lesson was, “When you hit something with a larger hammer, you better be clear about where it might go.” This had to do with one‘s fingers and also other people who might be hit by flying debris.

Sometimes, we run into clients whose speed to move rivals rust developing on mountainside sheet metal. Their movements and decisions are painfully slow. Weeks, months, even years to develop.

Impatient to move our sales opportunities forward, we are tempted to use “larger hammers” to break them free and get them to move, flooding them with white papers and introducing all manner of product experts, technical wizards, price discounts, or more senior executives in the company.

The key is to know WHY they move so slowly and, if we’re successful breaking them loose, where will they go when they finally move (for example, will they open a “y’all come” RFP process).

If they’re “stuck” because of a little organizational rust – some light cultural or procedural issues, maybe one of our executives or a product expert can break them free with a well-timed visit and snappy chatter. However, if the blockage or bottleneck we want to hit with our larger sales hammer is bolted in place, meaning, there are significant cultural, procedural, political, or other issues, whacking it with larger hammers can be counterproductive. The most likely outcome is self-inflicted injury.

Better to spray some rust penetrating oil and let it sit for a bit, while turning to other tasks or opportunities, giving the oil time to do its magic.

[So, Nick, that’s a good thought and what’s the equivalent of “rust penetrating oil” in sales land?]

[“Penetrating oil” is a very low viscosity oil that can seep through the almost invisible openings between metal parts and, over time, loosen metal connections that appear to be fused together. The secret is “time.” After liberally spraying penetrating oil on fused parts, one must wait several hours, even a day or two, for the oil to penetrate before having another go with a wrench or hammer.

In sales land, this can mean finding and patiently nurturing friendships in an organization, people who will provide information, slip into the almost invisible cracks in the enterprise and, over a period of weeks or months, influence the rusted players to move… or move faster.]

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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