Brandt On Leadership -- The Wrong Stuff

Feb. 8, 2007
Some companies haven't gotten the message yet: We don't want to get to know you better.

First, let me thank all of you for attending Capstone Screw's 17th annual vendor dinner. In particular, let me note my appreciation to all of you sales folks who showed up tonight, even though you knew we would once again be running our Sales Prevention Awards program for the Worst Sales Reps of the year. It just goes to show what you guys will do for a couple of drinks and a chance at a new contract, eh?

Just kidding. Ha ha ha.

Now on to the real show: Capstone's Silver Screw Awards, given each year in several categories to the reps who showed us all the wrong stuff, at all the wrong times. Let's get to it:

Most Annoying Logoed Trinket: This is a tough category; so many of you showered us with so many knickknacks emblazoned with your companies' hideous logos -- we're talking pens, notepads, flash drives, desk clocks, briefcases, shirts, shoe trees, jackets, golf balls, etc. -- that it would've seemed like bribery if we weren't too embarrassed to be seen in public using them. (Our 6-year-old sons, though, find them quite cool: Look, dad, I'm a businessman!)

But this year's worst giveaway by far came from Dave Pinkett of WDD Industries: A metal statue of WDD's industrial headquarters in PigsBucket, Arkansas. Not only was it large, ugly and useless, it also was held together with screws made by our largest Chinese competitor. Bill, come on down here for a Silver Screw, you knucklehead!

Best Insincere Expression of False Bonhomie: Boy, there's nothing we love better than how so many of you ask us about the family or the kids, because you clearly have no recollection of their names or anything else we've told you about them the last 187 times you asked. (Here's a helpful hint: Keep one of those crummy logo pens for yourself and write down a note about what we tell you. If nothing else, you can compare it to what we say next time, just to make sure we're not messing with you.)

For sheer gall and cheerful, breezy contempt for any type of real human contact or respect, though, nobody beats MegaHuge's Jim Fuller. Jim always has a smile and always says the right words, but he also does all the little things that let us know how truly unimportant we are given MegaHuge's 85% market share for our most important raw material -- calling us "Bill" or "Dick" when really we're a "William" or "Richard," answering his cell phone while he's in our office, shoulder-surfing (i.e., looking past us for someone more interesting) at cocktail receptions. Jim, there's nobody we'd like to Silver Screw more, if only we could. Here you go!

Worst Use of Technology: It's hard to believe today, but we used to think that nothing could be more irritating than your monthly visits (thanks for showing us the same catalog 12 times in a row) or your desperate end-of-the-quarter phone calls (thanks, too, for a load-in discount on crap we didn't need in the first place). But now you've got crazed customer relationship management (CRM) software blizzarding us with direct mail and faxes and e-mail and pre-recorded, auto-dialed "courtesy" phone messages -- honestly, it's almost like you've taken up virtual residence inside our computers and our heads, and, to be frank, we didn't like you all that much even when you were still on the other side of the desk.

Standing out in this crowded field, though, is Acme Industrial Wipes' Phil Fairfax, who brilliantly deduced that if he entered each of our names in several different ways into Acme's CRM system, we'd each get three times as many reminders to buy his products -- and that we could never forget him. Phil, you don't how right you were!

But we're trying.

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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