“I had a horrible day,” said friend and fellow dad David during our kids’ football practice.
“Do tell,” I replied.
“We were pitching an existing client on some new business, and I brought the big boss along for the ride. It’s always a risk, but I was confident we were going to get the business, and I thought the meeting would go well because we had a good relationship with the client.
We were just about finished with the meeting and everything had gone pretty smoothly. Then, all of a sudden, the client CEO tells us he’s putting his company up for sale and they’ve already hired a firm to handle the deal. I was horrified – I managed to get out a, ‘You know … we do that.’
The client CEO acted surprised, even though I know we’d told him in the past that we offer those services. I was so embarrassed. And then what made it even worse was when he said he wished he’d known we offer M&A services because he interviewed five firms!”
“Oh boy,” I said. “What did your boss say?”
“Not much, actually. When we got into the street, he just said something to the effect of, ‘Well, looks like we missed that one.’ I’ve been kicking myself about this all day.”
“Do you think the client CEO was faking? Do you think for some reason he just didn’t want to hire your firm and so pretended not to know you offered those services?” I asked.
“No. I think he really just forgot and didn’t put two and two together. I know we mentioned it to him, but we have to do a better job of making sure everyone we do business with knows everything we can do for them,” he said.
“Right, well, at least you have a go-forward plan,” I offered. “I think if you can tell everyone concerned at your firm that you know what went wrong and now have a plan for making sure it doesn’t happen again, that will go a long way to mitigating the damage. Stuff goes wrong all the time – it’s the people who are best at mitigating the damage who succeed.”
“I just feel like such an idiot,” he said.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” I said. “I have to tell you, from what you’ve told me about the problem, and especially from the boss’s reaction, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. I have a feeling he deals with much larger numbers than the value of whatever business you may have lost here, and so he has a wider perspective of the situation. I also like his style – you’ve always told me that your immediate boss is very negative and micro-managerial. I think the big boss has a much better handle on how to act in different situations. He didn’t yell, he didn’t recriminate. All he did was let you know he wasn’t unaware of what just happened, but that was it.”
“That’s true, and he sent me a nice text about the business we did get from that client,” he said.
“Yeah – I gotta tell you, I think you’re gonna be ok here,” I said.
“I’ve got one other one for you,” he said.
“Shoot,” I replied.
“When I told my banker (the ground-level person dealing with this particular client) that I’d texted the big boss and told him we won the business, she said, in only a half joking way, “Oh, you reached out to him because you wanted to make sure you got the credit,” he told me.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“Nothing. I was shocked, so I just kind of moved on,” he said.
“Well, is she good? Did she have a lot to do with you winning the business?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Well then, I think you need to go out of our way to make sure the big boss knows her name, knows her role in this situation and understands her value. Then you need to circle back with her and make sure she knows that you made sure he knows,” I said. “Here’s an easy tenant of leadership for when you’re in a pinch – disperse praise and credit to others; gather blame and responsibility unto yourself.”
“Thanks – you really should be a life coach,” he said.
“I am your life coach … apparently,” I joked.
“What’s the fee?” he asked.
“Coffee,” I said. “Decaf.”