Road Warriors

By Derek On November 17, 2011 Under Post

I have done countless cross-country marketing trips in the US as a salesman, shepherding analysts from one client meeting to another. In New York and Boston we might do six to eight meetings a day. The analyst will have prepared a spiral bound PowerPoint presentation that he gives to the client at the beginning of every meeting and will proceed to drone on, walking the client through each painful page. At least, after the tenth meeting it starts to feel that way and sometimes you have to endure this for two weeks or more on a long road show. You may think it is also boring for the analyst and you are right, somewhat. At least he or she gets to talk and answer questions. As the salesperson, your job is to sit quietly in the meeting and let the analyst do his dog and pony show. You only pipe up if Poindexter wanders off track or doesn’t completely answer a question. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Tactics

So you develop tactics to keep awake and not go batshit crazy. I remember on one trip across the US, I was taking two Taiwanese analysts to present to clients on semi-conductors and the shipping industry. Other than they were both “Taiwan” stories, these topics were completely unrelated which made getting meetings difficult. When trying to schedule meetings with skeptical clients I called it our “Ships and Chips Tour.” It seemed to work. But this trip was so long even the two analysts got very bored. (Honestly, I was bored by the first day). One meeting in particular stands out as “Chips” was in the middle of his 25 minute presentation for the hundredth time. I was sitting there pretending I was somewhere else (anywhere else) and only vaguely aware of “Ships” intently dismantling and re-assembling his cheap hotel pen over and over again. I realized something went wrong when there was a “ping” as the little spring inside the pen rocketed across the room and beaned the startled client right in the forehead.

In another meeting with a smaller client we didn’t know, the three of us idiots came up with the bright idea of switching analysts. We had all heard the presentations so many times any of us could recite either one backwards in our sleep. So Chips presented Ships and vice versa. That was fun. Once.

We Suave, We Urbane

With increasing sophistication, we hit upon a strategy of picking a word or phrase before each meeting that the analyst had to incorporate in his presentation. Chips would get a devious look in his eye and tell Ships, “The word you have to use this meeting is ‘piano leg.’” Not to be outdone, Ships shot back, “And you need to say ‘Sherman tank.’” And they did it. Ships pointing at a chart in his flip book described it to a puzzled client, “See, it looks just like a piano leg.”  And so it went.

Even the Client Couldn’t Take it

We travelled up to Toronto for two meetings. I only remember the one where the client FELL ASLEEP. And I thought I was bored. This old guy with whiskers coming out his nose shook our hands, sat down and leaned back in his chair. Chips began talking about semiconductor manufacturing in Taiwan for a few minutes. Ships and I were daydreaming as per usual when I noticed Chips’ voice kind of trail off as he stared at the client, now head back, fast asleep. The analyst shot me a questioning look and I motioned for him to continue. We soldiered on and our hirsute client slept through both presentations. We finished with me waking him up, shaking his hand and walking out the door. Relaxed place, Canada.

On another trip, I took a couple of Korean analysts to San Francisco for their first marketing trip in the US. My favorite restaurant in the country is there and has been there for 160 odd years; “Tadich Grill.” I told them about how great this place is and we went for dinner. They loved it; lots of fresh Pacific seafood, fresh sourdough bread, oysters, beer, the whole nine yards. “We come back for breakfast,” they demanded. Guys, the place is only open for lunch and dinner. We almost missed our flight the next day as both of them waited outside the restaurant in the morning hoping it would open. “You are right. No breakfast,” they later told me sadly.

Water Sommelier

One day just a couple of years ago in 2007, I took an analyst to have lunch at a very high end restaurant with a client in New York. To my surprise, this place actually had a WATER sommelier. This foppish guy with an unidentifiable accent actually tried to up sell me on a “special little elixir from a private spring of the mountains of eastern Poland.” “You mean ‘Poland Spring,’ I told him. The client laughed but water boy didn’t think it was funny. I told the “water sommelier” that we would take the San Pellegrino because the bubbles are more square and dismissed him. And I knew that we were at the top of the market right then. How ridiculous is that? After the GFC in 2008 I have yet to run into a water sommelier anywhere.

Nowadays I am more senior. I choose my trips and my analysts with care, trying to end up in San Francisco on a Friday so I can spend the weekend there before flying back to New York. Sometimes it’s grueling, sometimes it’s boring but you eat well, drink well and the weirdness along the way makes up for it.

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