“Is this some kind of negotiating tactic?”
I was in the company pantry, at a major client’s office. They’d licensed a critical software component from my startup which would be bundled with their radio chips to sell to electronic manufacturers.
For the previous half-hour their new VP of Sales, the entire engineering team and I had been in a meeting. Notionally the meeting was between THEIR sales and engineering folks and I was in the meeting as part of the ‘engineering’ team, representing the ‘application’ group.
The VP of Sales, who had been recently hired for his deep relationships and track record with manufacturers had just returned from a trip to Taiwan and China. We’d been discussing delivery dates and it was clear that the sales vp had made commitments to the customers that there was no way the engineering teams, either the clients or mine would be able to deliver on.
Yet no one spoke up from the engineering team. Not their VP or any of the project managers. And the VP of sales was not asking but telling what the delivery dates would be. Finally the VP of engineering responded.
“It’ll take us four weeks for us to be ready, once we have the software.”
At this point all eyes turned towards me.
“When will you deliver the software?” the VP of Sales asked.
Thus far I’d not spoken up in the meeting as I felt it was their meeting. Which it was. But I was not happy! The engineering vp knew that our ability to deliver software depended on their providing us their new hardware and firmware.
“The software delivery is scheduled for early May. And that’s the best case,” I said.
“Are you friggin’ kidding me?” Their vp of sales lost it.
I looked at their CEO who seemed happy to let sales tell engineering what they should do. And that too not necessarily in a pleasant manner. When the vp sales continued to press the engineering team and they remained silent, I just lost it.
“Why am I the ONLY one one telling the truth?” I screamed at their engineering team. “Why aren’t you guys telling him that there’s no way you are going to deliver this in May?”
I then stood up and threw the laptop that was in my hand on to the conference table and said “That’s it—if this is how you want to do business then I don’t want to your business.”
Luckily before anyone else said anything, their CEO intervened.
“We’re going to take a short break. Everybody needs to cool down. Get a drink of water or soda. Or walk around the block. We’ll reconvene in 10!”
That’s how I found myself in the pantry. That’s when their VP of engineering posed his question, “Is this some kind of negotiating tactic?”
I looked at him to see if he was serious. And boy was he serious. He was perplexed by my outburst and thought I was trying to play hardball to get the VP of Sales to agree to a new date.
It was my turn to ask a question. “You know there’s no way we are going to be ready. Why aren’t you pushing back?”
When we got back into the conference room, I first apologized for my outburst. Then I made my case that we need to both communicate better while being realistic!
“Folks I know we’ve all worked so hard this past year and a half. I don’t envy the job sales has to do. Trust me, I do. But I don’t think we are helping them by not being realistic. Worse yet we’ll hurt their credibility and burn bridges with our customers, which I don’t think any of us want.”
We then began to have a productive meeting.
Surprisingly the vp of sales and I ended up becoming really good friends, so much so many years later he offered us the use of his cottage in Tahoe when I had family visting. We found we were both similar in being plainspoken and blunt. We both angered slowly but cooled down fast.
Both our companies ended up being acquired by different buyers and all of us have learned much from one another, prior to that and since.
I share this story with other clients, entrepreneurs that I advice or mentor and my students for a variety of different reasons
- The need for clear communications to avoid misunderstandings
- Being aligned internally before making customer commitments
- Things that I’ve done that I’m not to proud of
- How not to handle or resolve conflicts
- When do you walk away from a client (or not)
- – How company culture can hinder or help success
- Just because we speak in English doesn’t mean we are hearing the same thing
- Even in prospecting calls as an illustration of how we’ll hold them accountable (of course without the throwing laptops around part!)
I’m sure you have many such stories that you tell. Question is do you have them handy? Written down even if it’s just four or five words? And do you repurpose and reuse them for different audiences, places and purposes? I’d love to hear from you. Share your favorite one!