|Posted on January 4, 2012 at 12:15 AM|
In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t just hang up on the girl. Perhaps it was slow, perhaps I was bored, perhaps I was just curious, perhaps I was feeling some end-of-the-year goodness in my three-sizes-too-small heart. I’m not really sure. But either way, I didn’t hang up and I really only have myself to blame for the waste of time that resulted from it. After all, she violated several of my “How to get hung-up on” rules and yet…and yet, I didn’t. (I hope I’m not getting soft.)
She started off asking for my partner, Allen, which is normal enough, but then when I said he wasn’t here she started in with a barrage of sharp, interrogative questions. “Who are you? What’s your position? Are you an owner? What do you do? Can you make decisions for your company? What kind of work does your company do? Will you travel? Where will you travel?” – “Why?” I interrupt. “Are you looking to hire us, or what?” Then, right then, is when I should have hung up.
But uncharacteristically, I didn’t. Turns out the overly pushy woman was trying to set up an appointment for some guy named Brent Ingram. I only remember his name because she probably said it like a dozen or more times in the span of our five minute conversation. “Brent Ingram. Brent Ingram. Brent Ingram. You’ve never heard of Brent Ingram? I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Brent Ingram. Brent Ingram works with all of the audio/video firms in South Carolina, how could you not have heard of him?”
I must tell you, I *really*despise, “Don't you know who I am?!” name dropping, even when it is being done by a subordinate in this case. Unless you’re like, I don’t know, Bill Gates or George Lucas or Derek Jeter or Oprah or something, don’t EVER say that. Especially when you’re really a nobody. (Though she was SO emphatically insistent and shocked that I didn’t know Brent Ingram that I Googled him. I thought maybe he was an Ingram of Ingram Micro, the giant company that owns DBL Distributing and AVAD. But, no. No results. And, I’m sorry to tell you, but if you don’t show up on a Google search in 2011/12, then you really aren’t much of anybody.)
It turns out that the mighty Brent Ingram was going to be gracing my area of South Carolina the next day, passing through and sharing his magnanimous benevolence and blessings on a few special dealers, and that I’d be a fool to turn such an opportunity as to allow him to accept an audience with me and explode the power potential of my business. From what I gathered, he travels around in his golden chariot looking for companies that he can then refer out as sub-contractors to his other clients – of which he has many, MANY of – and who are all wildly successful and fabulously wealthy, and receiving a kind word and seal of approval from Brent was only slightly less desirable than a grant from the Bill & Melinda foundation.
Normally I blow off any of these “I want to stop by and talk; can we make an appointment?” type things, because I so often find them giant wastes of time that almost ALWAYS end with some kind of, “Now, if you’ll only pay us this much, here is what we can do for you...” (I DON’T want to be a part of your paper placement ad campaign! My customers aren’t eating at the Waffle House and saving that syrup stained placemat to choose who does their home theater install!) However, business is a little slow, and if Brent “The Rainmaker” Ingram wants to stop by and just hand me a pile of clients, well, then who am I to say no?
So the next day this car pulls into the lot and the guy sits in it for quite a while before getting out. When he finally gets out he is carrying a briefcase. Classic salesman move. I assumed it was Brent “I can make you or break you” Ingram, but since it wasn’t a chauffeured Maybach and there was no halo, red carpet, or procession of trumpeters and confetti tossing revelers, I wasn’t totally sure. He finally walks in and introduces himself and it is indeed the man. Right off the get-go I tell him that I totally didn’t appreciate his mega pushy phone girl or really have an exact grasp on why he was even here. Brent explained that the phone girls – highly compensated, he assured me – often had to deal with secretaries and receptionists who tried to screen them from the decision makers, and they often try and bulldoze thru to the right people. I also offered that despite her shock, I had never heard of Brent Ingram or his company (the name of which I can’t recall). So we get through that little bit of potential unpleasantness – where Brent apologizes for the girl’s behavior with a kind of laughing I’m-not-really-sorry-and-well-she-got-me-here-right? laugh – and then get down to business. He takes a quick look around our showroom then whips out a pad of paper and starts asking me questions – what do we do, what are our areas of expertise, how many employees do we have, how far will we travel, what is our workload capacity, where have we done jobs, etc. I’m happy to answer these questions, because I’m still under the guise that Brent is going to somehow Rolodex all this info and then start germinating all kinds of new projects and business for me.
He sees how we could be a perfect fit for some commercial work his massively successful companies have lined-up. Because they are associated with Brent, they have so much business that they practically have to throw it into the streets so it doesn’t become a fire hazard. I’m down with the sickness. Have them call us; we’ll take some of that extra cash off their hands. Liberating folks of money is a huge part of what I like to do. Brent rights that down. I think it says, “Wants to increase business and make more money? Yes!” or something equally true. He has companies that are getting ready to build a bunch of small, doc-in-a-box medical practices, and that we could totally set them up with new audio systems. Check! Sounds great. “What’s your ideal job?” Brent asks. “A high-end home theater we go in and bang out in a single day,” I respond without missing a beat. Brent, who clearly paid attention during the “make sure you take lots of notes” portion of the sales training, dutifully jots that down. I picture a fairytale world where Brent sends me room after room of high-end theaters to bang out in a day. A Runco here, a Runco there. It’s like the gloriously mid-00’s all over again. Brent is bringing the magic back to Myrtle Beach!
Then he starts asking some really “personal” type questions. What is our annual sales volume? What is our profit margin? How much do we make on labor? What is the ownership percentage? And I’m like, “Whoa! Brent. I don’t see how any of that stuff is any of your business or germane to you sending my company business. You either want to have your clients – excuse me, I mean your fabulously wealthy clients – call me to do work for them or you don’t.” Brent writes down, “Not comfortable answering” on numerous lines.
That’s when Brent hits me with the part-two of his visit. Turns out his company ALSO happens to come in and consult with companies – you know, anywhere up to $100 million in revenues – and help them to improve their profitability, streamline operations, cut costs, manage workflow, promote synergy, all Like a Boss. And, you know, Brent just needs a little info to see if we would be a candidate for his largesse.
Here I stop him. “Brent, I can’t be ANY MORE CLEAR about this: I…am not…interested…in hiring…your company. If you want to refer business to me, I am very interested in that. If your clients have need of an audio/video integration company, I would love to be that resource for you and we will do terrific work for them. If you need someone to travel to insure top quality work, we can be your guys. If you have SO much work for us that you need us to ramp up and hire employees, we can do that. But, if you are here because you think that I might be interested in paying you for your services, then we have completely misunderstood each other. Completely.”
Brent assures me that no, no that is only a small part of it. Of course he would love to take me on as a client. I mean, he has SO many clients already, but there is always a little magic left in the ole Ingram wand for one more, and making success stories is what he lives to do. You can’t stop a Rain Maker from making it rain and Brent just brings money packed storm clouds with him wherever he goes. But if I don’t want to be more successful and wealthy and increase my synergy, and just mire along in the stagnancy which is my current situation, that’s OK too. He still has lots of people that he can send my way.
So we go back and forth like this for a bit where I repeatedly find myself having to stop him to say, “Brent, AGAIN, I just want to REITERATE, I am NOT going to hire your company. I don’t need to see a proposal or projection or market analysis or whatever you think that you are gathering this information to prepare. It will be a waste of both of our times. OK?” I'm starting to get that unpeaceful, uneasy feeling that time is being a'wasted but I'm holding out hope for some kind of 4th quarter Tebow-like miracle that will make this thing actually turn into a win.
Ole Brent assures me that that isn’t the case. He is reading me loud and clear on my position vis-à-vis hiring his company. I am coming through 5 by 5 and that is no problemo. But he just has to set up a second visit by someone who is more of an expert in the A/V field. Brent is just the initial contact man and A/V isn’t his bailiwick. Brent’s customers are incredibly powerful, wealthy individuals and he has to make sure that anyone that he recommends is like six-frickin’-sigma or people will start getting hung up on meat hooks and chainsaws will start getting fired up. He says that the guy that comes out *might* try and offer me his services, but, of course, that is only a small part of the visit. It’s part of his job to try and sign up new business, and that it’s really no biggie. Really he is just going to come out and insure that we only use properly rated screws and that our construction helmets are up to the latest industry standards and that our Cat5 wire rates out to the full bandwidth or something.
So I tell him that a second visit with the industry expert is fine, provided that we’re all on the same page about the me not hiring them, only interested in doing work for them, issue. So Brent dials-in to the home office and I hear him talking to the guy. And I can hear the other end of the conversation too. When he says I’m not interested in hiring Brent-tech, I hear the other guy say, “Well, he DOES want to increase his business and make more money, right? Ask him if he wants to make more money.”
Blarg. I can already tell this has gone south. Have you ever sat through a timeshare spiel? I’ve been to a couple of them, and they usually start off all sunshine and rainbows and amazing family vacations and promises of time spent together and wonderful memories and opportunities of a lifetime and whatnot. Then after you tell soft-sell first guy that you really don’t want to plunk down the $20 grand today, you get moved on to another guy who is the medium pressure guy and then in order to leave – and get your free “gift” for attending this little special corner of hell on earth – you have to go for an exit interview. This is where you meet the hard-ass.
His job is to get you to sign, not to be your friend. He is the last line because there is nothing left to lose. Either he berates you into joining their cult or you leave. He is usually jittery because he has stopped chain smoking and pounding thick, black coffee *just* long enough to have this encounter with you. This guy usually looks more like an ex-cop than a salesman, and if it were up to him, he would be conducting this “interview” with wet towels, blinding lights and blaring rock music. This guy envisions himself as Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross, (more about Blake's awesomeness here) and he wants you to sign on the line which is dotted. But he has no where near the style, panache or interpersonal skills of Blake, and instead packs it on thick with douche. “What do you mean you’re not interested? You’re not interested in having amazing vacations year after year? You don’t like spending time with your family? You wouldn’t want to have a lifetime of wonderful vacations? I can’t believe you don’t have the money. You don’t love your family enough to invest in their future happiness? You make me sick.” This is where things turn really unpleasant. The last time we did a timeshare thingy – to get two tickets to Disney World – I looked at my watch, stood up and said, “OK. You said this would take one hour. My hour is up. I’m not buying. Give me my tickets now and I’m leaving.” As this was in a room full of other people still in the midst of the process, they wanted to avoid any further spectacle.
So Brent hands me the phone and the guy immediately starts off with, “You DO want to make more money and increase your business, right?” Of course, I agree. So he starts going in about his visit and how he’ll be able to help my company and I just stop him. “Look, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here,” I’m talking into the phone but I am staring into Brent’s eyes. He is looking down at the ground. “I don’t want to waste your time or my time. As I made abundantly clear to Brent, I am not interested in hiring your company. Brent said that you have companies that need our services and that is the only relationship that I am interested in pursuing.” Phone guy says that that isn’t at all what he does. Maybe once in a blue moon, but signing up clients is the what he’s all about. I say, “Then we have a misunderstanding. Thanks. Here’s Brent.”
They chat for a bit -- where I feel compelled to tell Brent, "You might want to let that guy know that I can hear everything he is saying" -- and then Brent hangs up. “I’m sorry,” he offers, then something about how the expert appointment guy he normally calls doesn’t try and push the selling part as much or something. Whatever. I’ve wasted as much time on this as I care to and I’m ready to be done with it. It just proves that there is rarely a shortcut or easy way to more business, no one is out to give you something for nothing and if it seems too good to be true, it almost always is.