“It would make you laugh if it hadn’t made you cry”

Again, I was running the sales operation for a management consultancy.  It had an unusual product range and a huge chief executive.  His management philosophy was based on the answer to this one question: “Where does the 2 tonne gorilla sleep”.  Answer “Anywhere it effing pleases”.   He never ever changed his mind.  He’d ask for a decision, accept it and, some months later, you’d find you were doing what he had suggested in the first place.  He also had the strange habit of employing higher level people who had failed in their primary career.  Maybe he thought they would renew as stars in his firmament.  They never did.  I was with one of these for this meeting.  His name was Michael.  Ex-advertising, foppish hair, not too tall but arrogant in tone.

The Consultancy had just had an internal think tank meeting.  What exactly are our USPs?  They had reached a key decision in their consultancy way.  The key advantage of our consultancy lay with our ability to carry out analysis to levels no-one else would wish to go; and we would identify key parameters that others might think better forgotten ie, and in the vernacular, we would dig through the shit and we would dig up the shit.

You can see the strength of this concept.  But, I am sure you would also agree, it needed some refinement to make it a persuasive sales message.  Not so with Michael.  He had stopped at the idea.  He hadn’t worked through to the way it should be delivered, advertising background or not.

So there we sat, Michael and I, in the London Office of a large division of ICI, the ICI that was.  I remember it clearly.  ICI offices always seemed to look as though they could double as government offices.  No real creature comforts.  It was Michael’s meeting.  I was in harness, to support and develop as needed.  Our client was a senior Director.  Pleasant.  Modest in self-presentation. Nice smile.  No fool.

Michael set off.  No real questions to understand the client company, the client need or positioning.  It was all about who we were, what we did and how marvellously we did it.  Michael loved it.  He held the stage. The client listened attentively or perhaps politely.  Then Michael got on to his main theme: SHIT.  How we dug shit up, how we shovelled it, how we dug through the shit, all the things the client would have difficulty finding anyone else to do.

But Michael.  Can’t you see the implication behind what you are saying?  Are you suggesting the client company, ICI, a major chemical company, is, in fact, full of shit?  Who knows?  But the client didn’t catch on to the theme with excitement.  So we left the meeting with a “I’ll call you if I find something which requires your skills”.

Not the shitty comment Michael could have drawn.  But we never did do business with this company. That’s shitty enough.

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