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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Politically Incorrect

As I've mentioned, there wasn't much emphasis on political correctness in the 80's - sexual harassment was a new term and people were still discovering boundaries.  Many companies didn't even have policies in place yet.

One of my customers was an automotive aftermarket manufacturer; the sales force that I called on were all male, some former professional athletes - it was the quintessential boys club.

This was a perfect account for my company and I was trying everything I knew to get in the door.  The guy who was in charge of the promotional merchandise catalog (we'll call him Harry) was not interested in seeing me, but I had managed some small projects for one of his co-workers and he put in a good word for me.  Harry absolutely hated the merchandise suggestions I made.  He would go through page by page saying, "hate it, done it, boring, stupid, no, no, no, hate it"...you get the idea.  He finally threw down my whole presentation binder and said, "find me the one thing that will make automotive mechanics say, "I've got to sell more of these parts so that I can get me one of those" - then I'll think about working with your company."

A challenge!

So I wracked my brain and thought about what on earth would make any guy sell a particular brand of auto parts to earn it.

I called Harry, told him I had found the item and set the appointment.  I walked into his office with a blow-up doll with their company logo drawn on the doll's posterior region.

Harry burst out laughing, said that anyone that had the balls to bring that into his office was fit to be one of their vendors.  He never used the inflatable doll in their catalog of course, but I hear that she was quite popular in the office (to the point where HR paid a visit to Marketing to confiscate it - all the guys escaped without consequences).

At the time, most of the marketing guys at this company were within 10 years of my age (over and under), and although it doesn't sound like it from this story, I was always professional, respected their time and always understood that if I did my job well, their sales would increase.  Never did one of those guys ever make a pass or an inappropriate remark - and it was great fun to work with them. Harry became a great client for many years because I was willing to push the boundaries and (thankfully), accurately read that prospect's personality.  That move with the wrong guy or in today's politically correct climate could have been disastrous.  (Let's consider this what-not-to-do in this decade.)

Sometimes taking a calculated risk when there's nothing to lose just works.

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