Many years ago, as a sales engineer, I was working for a West Coast electronic manufacturing company. My territory covered New England, and I spent a lot of time in Massachusetts. One of my key accounts was in Pittsfield, MA. The town and everybody in it were involved in one way or another with this government contractor. You could say it was a government contractor town and Company doing work for the Navy. The two questions people asked you when you arrived at this government contractor’s facility was, do you have any relatives that work at this company, or have you ever done work for the United State Navy. I told them that no one in my family was associated with this company, but I did serve five years in the United States Navy. That seems to please the people in charge. Anyone that did work with government contractor was reminded, more then a few times that this government contractor facility works exclusively for the United States Navy. When you went to lunch, it was to the one of the local restaurants recommended by government contractor. If you stayed in one of the motels, it was again recommended by government contractor. It was a complement to government contractor and the positive attitude of the employees as well as a show place for the US Navy.
The company that I was working for had a major system contact with this government contractor. I had to call on the account monthly to insure that everything was to the satisfaction of both government contractor and the Navy. As the contact was coming to its conclusion, we were told that there would be spares to be ordered. What we did not know at the time was that we would be assigned a purchasing agent to negotiate this contract.
My contract was assigned to a purchasing agent who happened to be a retired Air Force Colonel, and very unhappy he had been sent to Pittsfield. He made it known that he despised the Navy, and anyone associated with it. How or why he ended up at this government contractor facility is still a mystery to me. When you went into his office, on his desk was his name plate that stated Colonel Andrew Whitman (retired). He also requested that you refer to him as Colonel. He was small in size and very impressed with his own importance. After a few meetings, it was obvious that he wanted to speak with someone higher in my company, and requested that I get senior management here to finalize the paperwork, and price on this spares contract. I had no choice but to call my VP of Sales, Mr. Jack Cutter. Jack said he was making the rounds of the sales offices and would be back there in a few days, since he was on the way to finalizing on a major contract at the Chicago office, and I could pick him up at the airport on Wednesday.
Wednesday came and I met Jack at the airport that morning around nine AM. I knew something was wrong when I saw Jack come down the passageway somewhat disheveled. It was obvious that he had slept in his suit, and his shirt looked like he had been wearing it for a week. I asked Jack how he felt, and he told me great because he had closed one of the biggest contacts in the company’s history, and the reason that he looked the way he did was that they, the sales team and the client, had been out all night celebrating. In fact, he came directly from the party to the plane, feeling no pain with very little sleep and no food. He assured me, he was on a wining streak, and ready to beat down the government contractor doors and do business.
We arrived at government contractor, a little after 11:00am. I had asked Jim, who was looking a little under the weather, if he would like a cup of coffee or to have something to eat. He said that his stomach was not in the best of shape, because of all the drinking he had done the night before, but he assured me that he was fine. I forgot to tell you that Jack also served in the Navy and was over 6’4’’ in height, and since I am 6’2’’ we made a formidable pair.
We were shown into the Colonel office. He was sitting behind his desk, and was not pleased to see two people our size coming through his doorway. The Colonel was so short he had to look up to talk with us. He couldn’t wait until we took our seats. Jack was not aware of the fact that this person wanted to be called Colonel, and started off by saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Andy” at which the Colonel interrupted Jack and said, “Yes, my name is Andrew but I prefer to be called Colonel, it puts things into the proper prospective” You can imagine the look at Jack’s face when the Colonel said that. Jack, without loosing a beat said, “Fine Colonel, but rather than you call me Mr. Cutter, Jack will be fine” The Colonel accepted that with very little comment.
The Colonel spent the next five minutes personally reviewing the contract file. It was obvious he wanted to make everyone present know that he was in charge. He went on to say that although the contract was completed with our company the Navy and government contractor still have the upper hand. He said based on his experience he felt the government contractor and the Navy had paid too much for the system, and he felt it was his responsibility to recoup some of, what he referred to as losses. The Colonel was really getting on his soap box, and all we could do was sit there and wait for him to finish. All this time I was watching Jack, who was obviously not feeling good, wondering how he was going to handle this situation. As the colonel continued his lecture, Jack interrupted him and said, “Colonel, would you mind handing me your wastepaper basket”. The Colonel, not knowing what to expect, handed it to Jack. Jack immediately stuck his head in the basket and barfed. The Colonel just looked on in a state of shock. When Jack was finished, he handed the basket back to the Colonel, and said, “Now as you were saying Colonel”. The Colonel, still not sure just what happened, repeated, “I expect to see a major discount on these spares of at least 40%” Jack looked him and said, “The company does not discount spares more than 10%” The Colonel, than said, “This is not good enough for this government contractor or the US Navy” Just then Jack interrupted the Colonel again, and said “Colonel, can I have your wastebasket again?” which the Colonel did begrudgingly, at which time Jack again stuck his head in the wastebasket and barfed again. At which point the Colonel could not take this any more, stood up and said, “OK, OK you got the order, and forget about the discount, just get out of my office I will send the paper work to you” Jack thanked the Colonel for the order, and wanted to shake hands but the Colonel declined.
As we left the building, I looked at Jack and said, “I have never used that approach to close and order” Jack said, “Besides not feeling good I had no intention of listening to the Colonel go on and on. If I excused myself and went to the bathroom then came back, the Colonel would have started all over again. So I figured I had nothing to loose, and the only thing he could do at that point was throw us out of his office, which he did, but he did give us the order” Jack looked at me and said that if I told anyone what happened in there he would kill me! When the President of the company called me, and thanked me for my effort with the government contractor account, I told him that it was all Jim’s unique negotiating skills that made the difference.