A View From All Sides Of The Desk, Again
Coffee Service Corner
For a number of years, I had the honor of writing a Coffee Service column for my good friend and mentor, the late Ben Ginsberg, founder, editor, and publisher of Vending and OCS Magazine. Besides being an industry icon and so much more, Ben was one of the most efficient communicators that I have had the pleasure of knowing.
As Ben and I were pondering subject matter material for an upcoming industry show issue a number of years ago, we lamented on the laborious process of obtaining feedback from our operator and supplier base. I commented that during my years as both a distributor and operator supply chain decision-maker, response from calls I made or emails I sent was much more prompt than the response I was then receiving as an industry consultant.
I proceeded to compose an article “A View from All Sides of the Desk”, in which I chronicled the disparity in response time and consistent communication that I experienced as I migrated between buying and selling roles. Today, as I have since experienced several more buy-outs and consequential career “adjustments”, I re-visit the value of prompt, clear, and consistent communication.
I look back on three tremendous individuals who were mentors of mine and that shared the common trait of being great communicators. I am convinced that this attribute was a primary building block that helped evolve these men into great leaders. From Ben Ginsberg, Servatron’s Dick Allen, and Heritage Coffee’s Stuart Daw, I offer a distillation of what I observed to be four basic principles of great communicating that each had in common.
Recognizing that time is valuable
Each of these professionals could communicate volumes with an economy of words. They were all great story tellers and immensely entertaining, but when it got down to business, each would and could deliver a cogent, complete message related to what their need was or what they believed your need was. They could easily migrate from a selling to buying role. Stuart Daw was my first customer call when I was a distributor. He was a vending, coffee service, and honor box operator in Florida. On this initial call, Stuart fully explained what it would take for me to deliver in order for him to consider giving me a share of his business. He suggested that I return in a few weeks with solutions. The first call concluded in less than 20 minutes. The follow-up call lasted an hour and resulted with a “trial” order. He remained a loyal customer for as long as we had the company, growing volume each successive year.
An even more significant element of the value of time was that each of these three individuals were always generous in the giving of their time. Each would always find time to nurture an industry novice or engage the veteran.
We learn this trait in the sandbox. No need to be mean-spirited in any situation. We will all encounter the occasional boorish rogue. Take the high road, be brief, and move on.
I had a friend at Standard Coffee Service back in the 1980’s. He closed a lot of great accounts for us including a national restaurant chain. I got to know a number of this group’s decision makers as I participated in their annual golf event. My friend asked that I accompany him on one of his corporate presentations. As we entered the offices, I was shocked at my friend’s behavior. He abruptly announced who he was to a new receptionist, bugged that she did not recognize him, boasting that the company CEO was expecting him. When she asked him what company he represented and suggested he complete the sign in form, he became incensed, abruptly turned away then walked down the hallway to the CEO’s office. I remained behind doing my best to console the receptionist and do some damage control. She was in tears.
After our call, I challenged my friend on his terrible behavior and he said to me, “She’s nobody. She’ll never last.” Well, she did last. Within six months she became a member of the buying group. A year later she was promoted. Six months after that, she headed up purchasing for the coffee and tea categories…our lines! In less than a year we were fired from the account after a ten year run. My friend was devastated and could not understand why we were canned. While I have no hard evidence that my friend’s boorish behavior led to that event, I can say with certainty that his actions did nothing to help.
We have all seen this person in a business meeting, sales presentation, or social gathering. No attention is being given to questions asked or alternative positions being posed, but instead only preparing for his or her next comments and over-talking others.
I always enjoyed trade show beverage hour with Ben Ginsberg. He loved participating in robust conversations, especially with gatherings of industry veterans, which often would get quite loud. While some at the table would get louder with each subsequent adult beverage, Ben would continue to listen intently to every comment, compose his retorts accordingly, and own the conversation. It was like watching an athlete perform. But listening was the key.
This skill also made Ben a premier panel moderator. There are a number of his events that were recorded by NAMA and NCSA in its day. If you ever have occasion to come across one, take an hour and listen to a master.
I understand the reality that folks in positions of influence regarding buying decisions are going to have their calls and emails returned more expeditiously than others. I have experienced it. I get it.
I also understand that oftentimes there is a delay in response due to travel and other obligations. Additionally, we must sometimes be trained in others’ preferred methods of communication. A former boss of mine did not participate in voice mail activity. It took a day or two when I first began to work for him to figure it out. However, send him an email or text message and a response would come same day most of the time….next day at the latest.
Even today, no longer being a part of his billion dollar plus conglomerate, I still receive the same courtesy of promptness. I should add that I make a point to never squander his time with meaningless chatter or I suspect that courtesy might evaporate.
Our methods of communicating today continue to evolve. Social media dominates. People sitting across from one another at a social event often spend more time on their electronic devices than they do engaging in real conversation. That’s a new reality.
My perspective is that there is always time to provide a response. And I hope that my friends who have read this article have found me to be a timely responder…from all sides of my desks!