What If…?

In which we are reminded to ask clients how things will go if they don’t go according to plan.

I helped a friend move, once. Actually, a couple of times. It was from him I learned the expression, “Don’t own anything that you can’t carry yourself.” We were, at that time,  much earlier in our lives, single and mobile, changing jobs or moving to new apartments every couple of years.

I couldn’t pass that test now. But while “Don’t own anything you can’t carry” limits the weight of what you might be carrying to a moving truck, it doesn’t limit the quantity of those things. And my friend liked quantity.

He was a former United States Marine, a combat platoon leader. His motto was “be prepared” and he took it to heart. If a blizzard struck or a hurricane took out power, he had enough food to keep himself and several friends  well fed for weeks. If the local drug store closed, he had medical supplies of all types, sizes, and dosages at the ready. If you needed batteries – several weeks’ worth. Clothing, more of the same.

I asked him once, what he was going to do if things in this country got really crazy and he said, “I have money and supplies stashed in various locations around the country.”

I looked at him kind of funny and, former Marine leader that he was, he just looked me dead straight in the eyes and did not blink until I looked away.

“OK,” I thought, “he has stashes around the country in addition to all this canned food I just carried out to the moving van.” I kept moving.

One of my favorite podcasts is “Make Me Smart” with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood. At one point, a few weeks ago,  when the container ship, Ever Given, got stuck crossways in the Suez Canal, they talked about supply chain shortages. Molly’s point was: We’ve taken all the fat out of our global supply chain such that, when there is an interruption anywhere, whether it’s the Suez Canal or the Covid virus,  you have a big problem.

At this point, we are seeing that in the form of microchip shortages and shortages in the automobiles and computers that depend on them. My car dealership wrote to me last week to ask to buy my car because they are short of used cars to sell to other people.

So where does all of this lead? One of the best things we can do with a client is to ask questions that begin with the words, “What if…?” Many businesses, small businesses in particular, don’t develop comprehensive contingency plans or disaster plans. So, we’re a big help when we ask the “What if…” questions that the disaster plans should address.

For example, focusing on the supply chain: What if… you can’t get some of the components you need for your product? What if… the price of your inputs quadruples in the space of a few months to a year (as lumber prices have quadrupled in the last year)?

Or labor market dislocations: What if… you can’t hire the types of people you need to run the machinery, or take the sales jobs, or handle back-office work?

We can also ask “what if…?” questions on the positive side.

What if … sales grow faster than you expect? What if… you land that huge order from the big box store? What if…?”

My moving buddy friend is now a bit less mobile than he was. I called him a while back and asked, “Do you still have your supply caches out there?”

“Yes, I do,” he replied. “I think I’m at the point where I need to start cleaning those up.”

“Good idea,” I said. “What if…..”

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at https://clarityadvantage.com/knowledge-center/ .

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