Excuse me, don’t I know you from somewhere?

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by Dave Garretson


I can’t believe I did that....

What’s the biggest, most embarrassing mistake you’ve made in business? No matter what you’ve done, I doubt that you can top any of my idiotic moves. For instance....

Ah, the open road. What did I forget this time?

I’ve been a road rep for almost eight years now. By my estimate, the number of times I’ve left the house to embark on road trips: about 150. More importantly, the number of times I’ve remembered to bring everything I need: ZERO.

From price lists to shaving kit, coffee mug to catalogs, business cards to credit cards, fabric swatches to wrist watch, there is a lot to pack, and something is always, always missing. Always.

It’s a, ah, special feeling when you are sitting across from a future futon retailer and he says, “You’re kidding me. How could you come all this way to see me and forget to bring the pictures?” Ooops!

Think before you hit that reply button.

“Dave take a look at this email so-and-so sent me,” read my friend’s message to me. So-and-so’s email message to him was attached. I opened up the attached message and read it over. Immediately I thought of several clever and biting remarks about so-and-so’s email that I knew my friend would enjoy. After all, that’s probably why he sent me this message, right?

So I dashed off some very clever comments, sarcastically riffing on so-and-so’s serious (but laughable) message to my friend, hit the reply button, and off it went. Very good, very witty, and very, uh, very stupid.

Stupid? Gossiping about so-and-so behind his back was not a great idea in the first place. Accidentally sending the sarcastic commentary to so-and-so instead of to my friend was, well, stupid. I replied to the attached email so-and-so addressed to my friend, not to the email my friend addressed to me. My snotty remarks missed my friend and went directly to so-and-so. Ooops!

Bye, hope you enjoy my briefcase!

This happens to futon sales reps once in a while. Well, anyway, it happens to me! I walk in, put down my bag, we chat for a while, and I leave. I leave, but the bag stays.

Of course, this mistake isn’t memorable unless I travel for some distance… oh, say to Delaware, before discovering that I left my bag back in New Jersey. Ooops!

On one occasion, I left my bag behind and happily went on my way. The next stop was two hours away. I didn’t get far when my beeper went off, the nice people had noticed my bag and wanted to let me know.

By the time I got back to their store they had gone through everything in the bag and had questions about some of the things they’d found inside. They were particularly interested in one special product line they found in my bag that I’d never told them about. They thought they’d found something terrific for themselves, but their discovery just made things awkward for all of us. I’d never told them about the product line because I’d sold it to another store, their arch-rival competitor, who had an exclusive on it. Ooops!

See boss, I knew I’d find the airport in time

It’s the curse of every road rep. I’m traveling with a sales manager or owner from the factory, and I keep getting lost. When you can’t find your way around in your own territory, it doesn’t go a long way towards building up their confidence in you.

The airport is usually the worst, and I always get lost looking for it, which tends to leave a poor last impression. I used to have great excuses, such as “I don’t know where the airport is because there are never any stores near airports.” That worked until a sales manager circled an address on an invoice before mailing it to me. The retailer was located on Airport Road.

Now I’ve given up on specific excuses. I offer one blanket apology to the boss before we get into the car.

“Listen,” I’ll say, “I get lost or make at least one wrong turn every single day that I’m on the road. That’s when I’m alone. With you in the car, it’ll be much worse. Once I find them, hopefully none of the stores will have relocated or gone out of business, because that would be especially embarrassing to me. Also, I’m really hoping that none of the customers we visit have stopped selling our products, because I would also be embarrassed by that. And lastly, please don’t ask my customers to recommend another rep to replace me, at least not while I’m in the room.”

“Excuse me, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Forget about the sales manager. THIS is the curse of every sales rep: Not recognizing
a customer.

Two weeks ago I approached a familiar looking person at a futon trade show.

“Pardon me for asking,” I said, “But I’m positive that I know you from somewhere.”

“Hi Dave,” he answered with a sigh. As he turned around, I could see his name badge and realized that he was an excellent customer of mine, someone who I know quite well… perhaps just not well enough to recognize outside of his store.

“So, tell me Dave,” he asked wearily, “Is your sales manager here? I have that list of names ready for him.”


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