“When opportunity comes knocking on the door, don’t go to wash your face.”
-From an ancient Indian story my grandfather used to tell us.
When it comes to customers, there is no such thing as "Out of Scope." Such advice came from one of the greatest salesmen I have known.
In the summer of 1966, I got an internship to work in a small business. Part of the assignment was to accompany the owner during his door to door visits with customers. What I noticed was that the owner would listen to customer’s ideas, dilemmas, needs, and even if he did not have the product or service needed, he would say, “let me get back to you.”
Upon return he would assess if he wanted to get into that line of business or if there were other companies that could quickly service that customer’s need; then he would either make a deal with the other companies or refer them directly to the customer.
On one day he even referred his competitor to his customer realizing that he did not have that product. My curious mind inquired, “isn’t that dangerous - you are letting your competition get in the customer’s door.” To that he replied, “the primary objective of my business, stated in my mission, is to offer quick solutions to customers. And customers have seen that and asked me to get into many areas that they have need. Some customers have even funded my new ventures because they know I am focused on their success.”
Over the years, the scope of his business grew from cement to chemicals to ice and many more areas.The most important thing I learned from him in the summer of '66 was that “when it comes to customers, there is no such thing as, 'Out of Scope.'" Years later when I watched a documentary on PBS about Microsoft, the memory of that lesson revived and has stayed fresh since then.
Many a times, it is in split seconds decisions that the fortunes are made or lost. One company becomes "Microsoft" and the other (Interglactic Digital Research) vanishes from the face of the earth. Interglactic had the operating system that IBM (All mighty of computer business in those days)desperately needed to get PC business going, the other (Microsoft) did not. (Microsoft had only "Basic",a computer language.) So what happened next?
Following story is extracted from the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) special "Triumph of theNerds" by Robert Cringley
The scene is set in California...laid back Dr.Gary Kildall, CEO of Interglactic, already making the bestselling PC operating system CPM. In Seattle Bill Gates maker of BASIC the best selling PC language butalways prepared to seize an opportunity. So IBM had to choose one of these guys to write the operatingsystem for its new personal computer. One would hit the jackpot the other would be forgotten...a footnote in the history of the personal computer and it all starts with a visit to their headquarters by IBM in 1980.
In a nutshell, when IBM came on a short notice, Bill Gates and team changed their plans to accommodate them. Gary Kildall had other plans and he left IBMers with his partner and lawyer. When IBM pooped out non-disclosure agreements, Bill signed them in good faith even though he found them very amusing. Interglatic got the lawyer to look at the non-disclosure. The lawyer threw up on this non-disclosure. So IBM spent the whole day in Pacific Grove debating with them and with their attorneys and everybody else about whether or not Interglatic personal could even talk to them about talking to them, and they left.
Sequel to the story: And Bill Gates, not wanting to let go the opportunity, found a small company in Seattle to develop this operating system.
Interestingly, that small company's operating system, which saved the deal with IBM, was, well, adapted from Gary Kildall's CPM.
”As it happens often in the PC business, the prize didn't go to the inventor but to the exploiter of the invention.”
But then again, When the opportunity comes knocking on the door, don’t go looking for the sink to wash your face. Just open the door, you will have rest of your life to do Risk Mitigation.