Stories People Tell Me #3

“We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say-and to feel- ‘Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel it.’ You’re not as alone as you thought.” —John Steinbeck

This is a continuation of “Stories People Tell Me” Numbers 1 & 2

8. A Safe Prayer: Ed loved to tell the story of his daughter’s engagement to a young U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant. Ed decided to celebrate the occasion with a barbecue and pool party at his home for all his daughter’s and the lieutenant’s friends. The fiance’s friends were, like himself, all active duty Special Forces troops at a nearby Army post, so he picked a summer’s Sunday afternoon when they could all attend; and attend they did. About 12 fit young men showed up for an afternoon of food, drink, and sun & fun in the pool.

By early evening, the party was winding down and Ed was concerned about the soldiers driving back to post a little the worse for wear. He suggested they all sleep at his house, have an early breakfast and shower, then head back to base ready for duty. They agreed to that and had, in fact, sleeping bags and toiletries stored in their cars. Ed set them up with spaces in his den, the family room, and the living room. Within a few more hours, the house was dark and the warriors were asleep, all over the floors of the 3 rooms.

Ed went up to bed and found his wife, a religious person, just lying there looking very pensive. “Is anything wrong?’ he asked.

“No,” she replied slowly, “I just offered a special prayer unlike any I have ever made.”

Ed asked her to share it, and she said, “Every night, I say a prayer that God will protect my family and my home from break-ins by any person intent on doing us harm. After seeing those young Green Berets asleep all over the downstairs floor, I added: ‘But Lord, if such a break-in has to occur sometime, please let it happen tonight.'”

9. Sales #101: I worked for Dick, our vice president of sales, and a man of a hundred stories. He was always giving me little sales tutorials. “Remember,” he’d say, “The first thing you must sell to a customer is yourself. Then, you sell him on your company. Then, you sell him on the product.”

I figured I pretty much knew it all by this time, and one time hinted that to Dick. “Really?” he said, smiling. He tossed me a standard #2 wooden pencil. “Sell me that,” he said.

I knew I could do it. I introduced myself as a successful pencil seller of many years’ experience and accomplishment. I talked about my fine and stable company, an industry leader for nearly a century. Then I told him about this fine wooden pencil, made by experienced craftsmen from the finest ash and the best graphite. I asked for the order.

Dick said, “Not bad. But you missed one important point. Here, let me sell the pencil to you.”

Dick took the pencil, put it in his pocket out of sight, and asked me this question: “Tell me, Ed, when you buy wooden pencils, what do you look for?”

10. Mayo in the Tuna Salad: I was visiting a large client account and my contacts asked me to stay for lunch. Company policy was that if you had a guest in tow, you could eat in the coveted Executive Dining Room. We did that and, to my surprise and special honor, we were joined by the president and CEO, in person. Everybody was on their best behavior.

I ordered the tuna salad plate, and poked at it while the big guy asked me questions about our product and pricing and all the good things CEO’s like to know about. Everything was going fine, until he noticed I had only eaten half my salad plate.

“What’s wrong with your tuna salad plate?” he asked.

Without thinking things through, I answered, “It’s okay, just a little too much mayonnaise for my taste.”

“Too much mayonnaise?” He said. “I can fix that.” He took my plate and strode into the kitchen. I could hear him yelling, screaming, and obviously terrorizing the kitchen help about putting too much mayonnaise in the tuna salad plate. I shuddered listening to their abject apologies. After a while, a deathlike silence fell over the kitchen, and the CEO strode back to our table and said to me: “Try it again next time you’re here. It will be fine.” He shook hands and left us.

We were quiet for a decent interval, and then I asked my hosts: “I’m really sorry, but what was that all about?”

One of the older guys replied, “You’ve got to understand the CEO’s job. Every day he is confronted with problems and issues and decisions that nobody else but him can make. Often time there is no obvious right or wrong answer, it’s a judgement call. He has to put himself on the line with everybody from the board, to his staff, to the employees, to the customers and vendors, and even to the financial community. He can never be right all the time, or even make one single judgement that won’t come back to bite him.

“Then, someone like you comes along with a problem he can instantly understand and resolve: ‘Too much mayonnaise in the tuna salad’. He took the ball and ran. Don’t feel badly for him. You just made his whole day.”

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