Blowing Leaves Downwind (Issue 926)

In which we are encouraged to think about the whole system we’re selling into rather than just the specific problem now on the table.

It’s a sunny day in the middle of November in Massachusetts. 36 degrees with a bit of a wind, so it feels like 20 degrees. The oak trees, most of them, have given up their acorns and their leaves which, in many locations, are piled up in the corners of parking lots and around bushes, wherever the wind has blown them.

My office overlooks a slightly elevated commuter rail road track, one line eastbound, one line westbound. On the other side of the tracks is an office building, a converted chair factory and a 50-car parking lot.

This morning, when I arrived at work, a crew of three men with leaf blowers were blowing leaves from the middle and one side of the parking lot to the other. One of them blew the leaves across the asphalt toward the railroad tracks. One of them used his blower to push the leaves up onto the elevated railroad track bed, and one of them blew the leaves across the tracks with a huge cloud of dust all of which were then blown down wind into the parking lot next to my building.

Instead of bagging the leaves or capturing them in a truck to be hauled away, they just blew the leaves into our parking lot, making them our problem.

Why is that? The buildings on either side of the tracks are owned by different people. They work on different maintenance schedules. They hire different leaf removers. (The guys who own my building hire people with a truck to carry the leaves away.)

Sometimes, when we are selling our products and services, we’re talking to somebody like the building owner on the other side of the tracks. He wants his leaves moved, he’s hiring some guys with blowers to do it, and he doesn’t care where the leaves go so long as they are not in his parking lot. But other homeowners and building owners in the area have to clean up the mess that his crew creates.

The guys selling the leaf blowing services could care less. They want to contract with the guy across the tracks and, since he wasn’t particular about how he wanted the leaves removed, what do they care? Their job is just to blow them off the lot and make sure that, when the owner comes back Monday morning, there are no leaves in his parking lot.

We can be better than that. When we are exploring our clients’ issues, we certainly need to think about the client problems in front of us, whatever they are.

But, then, because we can be better than that, we can ask questions about the impact of any changes in our clients’ departments or divisions on other departments and divisions in the company, and their clients, and their suppliers. How does the whole system work? How does the buying department or division decision affect other parts of the system?

There may be opportunities for us there, with those other departments or divisions, and, perhaps more important, we can help our buyer avoid the inevitable “blowback” when the other building owners, department heads, or division heads figure out that our buyers just pushed their leaves downwind on them.

Nick Miller trains banks and credit unions to attract and expand relationships with business clients through better skills, sales strategies, and execution. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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