In its heyday, the Kodak company used the following tagline in their advertising: “Make it a Kodak Moment!” This phrase was used when taking a picture of someone at a particular moment that will never be forgotten. It even made its way into everyday use to highlight anything good or embarrassing that happened to an individual, even when it wasn’t captured on film.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced our fair share of Kodak Moments in our lives, so I want to share one of mine that will be forever burned into my memory. It was an expensive sales lesson about being overly confident, that I’ll never forget. This event unfolded when I had my first company, The Sales Support Company. As a quick backgrounder, we provided retail merchandising services for the major consumer packaged goods companies, whereby we performed a myriad of services for our clients that ranged from new product introductions to regular sales coverage and even in-store display building.
Camera of choice
This last item, in-store display building usually required us to take a picture of each display as proof of performance. This was a pretty common practice in those days and these photos would ultimately be submitted to the client. Like pretty much everyone in the industry, our camera of choice was Polaroid. It’s ability to produce an instant picture that could be immediately catalogued with all the necessary information made it attractive unlike traditional film which required waiting until the whole roll was used and then developed.
Although we had a pretty impressive roster of clients, most of which were global players, we still wanted more. One such prospect was the Kodak Company, which at the time was one of the worlds largest photographic film companies. When you consider that in those days film was sold in thousands upon thousands of retailers that ranged from the local corner store to department stores. This was an ideal client for our services.
Over a number of years, I had tried multiple times to get an appointment with their senior sales personnel only to be rebuffed. However, over time, we did manage to execute a few small regional projects but certainly not on the scale we had hoped. These small projects had happened only because we had developed a working relationship with the local sales representative. Over time though, the impact of our performance on these small projects began to get noticed at higher levels of the organization.
As luck or perseverance would have it, we were finally invited into the inner sanctum of Kodak’s head office to pitch our services. This was monumental. For the record, Kodak was a very conservative company and for them to even contemplate outsourcing some of their retail sales/merchandising services was an enormous opportunity.
I don’t quite remember how many hours I had put in preparing for the presentation, but I do know it was significant. Aside from the general overview of our company, I also prepared summaries of performance with other similar sized organizations as well as a summary of our performance on the numerous small Kodak initiatives. The time spent on this was well worth it, as it could result in a six or seven figure annual contract.
At this point in the company’s evolution, we were no longer trying to prove our concept, as we, along with some competitors, had firmly established the viability of an outsourced sales and merchandising force to the industry players. So, needless to say, I had developed a high degree of confidence in our ability to win over Kodak, much as I had with other clients.
As I entered the board room at my scheduled time, I was taken aback to find 10-12 very senior managers sitting around the table. Typically, a presentation of this nature would only involve 3-4 managers at most companies, but apparently, Kodak worked differently. Although surprising to see such a gathering, this didn’t really phase me as I had presented our services often enough and was feeling confident and in hindsight possibly a little too relaxed.
I knew all was lost
The presentation unfolded as usual with all major questions and objections handled deftly. As we moved into the Q & A session of the presentation, I was feeling pretty good and possibly a little cocky at this point, as I felt I was winning them over. Questions continued to be asked and I continued to answer them confidently. Then came a perfectly natural and expected question that ultimately derailed any hope we had in ever getting them as a client.
The question was simply, “How would you quantify or authenticate the merchandising activities or display building reported by your field force?” As soon as I heard the question, I knew I had the answer and without missing a beat, I answered it with three little words that before I had finished uttering them, I knew all was lost. What were those three little words? “We take Polaroids!” The silence was deafening.
Whatever goodwill I had generated or convincing argument I had put forth, I was done. Competition in the film category was fierce and Kodak was the leader in those days and just arrogant enough to let you know. So being stupid enough to mention a competitor’s product by name was not one of my brightest moves.
Yes, it was an innocent mistake, as Polaroid was the generic name for any instant developing film much like Kleenex is for facial tissue, but they certainly did not take it that way. I did try to lighten the mood a little but to no avail. It was clearly evident that there was very little chance of regaining any lost ground as the questions dried up and a meeting was concluded.
It was like a ground ball trickling through your legs
I’ve never forgotten this Kodak Moment. Being over confident and letting your guard down when so much is on the line, is a rookie mistake. It was a hard learned and expensive lesson much like letting an easy ground ball trickle through your legs that allows the winning run for the other team to make it home.
To make matters worse, was that we had opened their eyes to the potential of outsourcing this area by executing those smaller projects on a local level. The business eventually went to a competitor and the size and scope of the assignment was as I had thought.
From that point on, I always tried to add a small preamble before answering a question like “Being able to quantify the display activity is something we all care about…”. By doing so, it gave my brain a couple of seconds to consider my answer instead of blurting out something stupid like “We take Polaroids!”
Copyright © Greg Weatherdon 2018
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