Helping on the business side proves to be an exercise in frustration

Herbert Lovelace, Contributor

November 6, 2003

3 Min Read

When you're an IT person, it's a rare treat when someone thinks you have any talent beyond being able to bond emotionally with a PC. So I was quite pleased when Ron Stagweg, the head of Domestic Operations, called to ask if I would help one of his sales managers with a presentation to a potential new account. Ron may not have the intellectual brilliance of a Gornish, our less-than-beloved CFO, but over the years he has grown steadily as an executive.

Before you think that I'm one of those really important CIOs deeply involved with the business, I should tell you that the client in question is someone I knew vaguely in college and have seen over the years at class reunions. Ron, who's always eager to take advantage of any opportunity, seized on this relationship, somehow assuming that I would have some insight into how Fred thinks and thus would be able to add value to our marketing effort. That's how I came to be sitting in a stuffy conference room listening to Tom Jenkins, one of Ron's bright young protégés. Tom is articulate (some would say glib) and a hard worker. He also is hardheaded. So I wasn't too thrilled with my assignment, but I figured that if I could be of help, I would.

I started off by asking Tom how much time he had to make the presentation. He looked at me blankly and then said with a note of triumph in his voice, "As long as it takes. We have a good story to tell!"

Several of his underlings smiled; one even applauded gleefully. I could see it would be a long afternoon. "Fred has the attention span of a 6-year-old on a sugar high," I intoned. "I suggest you get to the point with him and stay there."

The next hour was painful. After listening to 15 minutes of our company history, I commented that unless Fred was a stockholder or business-history buff, he was probably more interested in what our products could do for his employer than in our heritage. Tom countered by saying that it was important that Fred recognize how reliable we are.

Next, Tom went into mind-numbing detail about our manufacturing processes. Feeling that I had been a little harsh on him, I decided to be as gentle as possible. "Tom," I started, "you've got a great message, but in the limited number of interactions I've had over the years with this guy, he's been as impatient as anyone I've ever met. How about tightening up the presentation and get to the benefits and the Q&A in case he cuts the meeting short?"

Tom sighed deeply and said he would take my opinions under consideration. I kept quiet until he was finished, at which point I made a few other observations and went back to my office, wondering where I had erred--in my comments, my delivery, or spending time trying to talk to such a blockhead?

I never did find out if Tom changed his presentation. All I know is that we didn't get the contract and that Fred "doesn't have the vision to understand the value of strategic relationships," according to Tom.

Whether you're discussing IT or business products, I still think you have to give people a reason to keep listening if you ultimately want them to buy into your ideas.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty) as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company. Send him E-mail at [email protected].

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