Some people have a knack to pick up or close a business deal in just a whiff. I wonder how easily or smoothly the conversation (that otherwise seems casual) turns into something serious and ends into a potential deal or even a ‘draft work order”. I get simply amazed to witness such a progression.
I have always failed in generating consulting business through conversations. Either I am awkward or sometimes too self-critical of myself and stay quiet. Often, I lose my wits when discussions start drifting to commercials where I am not so comfortable. In such cases, I accept a graceful defeat.
Many times, I end up giving my insights that my potential client can use to prepare a ToR and ask for bids from others. “What are you doing Dr Modak? You are simply axing your opportunity? “ says my inner mind but still I let it go. There have been instances where I even go ahead and recommend someone else while I know that I am perhaps the best person to solve the problem.
I have seen on the other hand consultants who pitch themselves or their services pretty well to the client. They look at every opportunity of “business connect” between the “dots” and “commas” of the conversation. And many times, some homework is also done prior to the conversation to know areas of weaknesses, budgets and priorities. Its like pushing the ball effortlessly to the side pocket on the billiard table. I don’t like such cooked-up conversations. They must be natural and gracefully done even if securing business is the interest.
When I spoke to my Professor Friend about my views on conversation for the business, he just smiled. “Oh, you have a lot to learn Dr Modak. But, sure, one of these days I will give you some training”.
Interestingly, this day was not too far. Two weeks later we were in Pune and returning to Mumbai after a meeting at the Pune Municipal Corporation. The meeting got over a bit early, so Professor decided to visit a friend at a Caprolactam processing factory in the Bhosari area of Industrial Development Corporation.
He called General Manager (GM) Gaitonde and said that he would like to drop in and say hello. “Haven’t seen you for a while” he said.
Do drop in Professor, said GM Gaitonde.
When we reached the factory and entered GM Gaitonde’s cabin, it was around lunch time. Gaitonde had already made arrangements for our lunch with his colleagues in the dining hall.
Professor introduced me to GM Gaitonde. We shook hands.
With a rather naughty expression on his face, GM Gaitonde told me that my Professor Friend has a bad habit to discover consultancy opportunity each time that he meets him. I hate to say this to you Dr Modak, but this man has an instinct of extracting business through conversations. Every meeting I do with him, he walks out with a consultancy contract.
GM Gaitonde turned to Professor and said.
“But today my Friend, come what may, I am not going to give you any business whatsoever. And I seriously mean that. No jokes”
Professor did not mind GM Gaitonde’s anguish and warning. Instead of responding, he just patted on his shoulder and smiled. I guessed that they must be good friends.
“No worries Gaitonde, I am not a businessman. I am just a Professor. Now let us go to the dining hall as your colleagues must be waiting ” He reminded.
The dining hall was for senior executives. There were 8 colleagues of Gaitonde who were already on the oval shaped wooden table, waiting for us. We all had brief introductions.
We were served with a tomato soup and Russian salad. We spoke about several problems industry is facing. GM Gaitonde said that water supply is becoming a serious issue and water prices are rising steeply. I was aware that caprolactam based plants consume huge quantities of water in the production of Nylon-6.
Professor turned to the Chief who was in charge of utilities and asked “Sir, how much water do you consume a day?
Chief answered “2400 m3 Professor. This number has been steady over the last two years. Production is steady too.”
Professor said “Nice”. He pulled out his pen wrote this number on the tissue paper placed on the table.
In the meanwhile. the waiter asked Professor his choice of main course. “Vegetarian” said the Professor.
After the meal was served, Professor turned to Plant head of Extrusion Department, What is your number Sir?
“250 m3” pert came the answer Professor subtracted this number from 2400 m3.
Chief of Nylon 6 unit was the next one to be asked and he said that his unit consumes 450 m3. Boiler department had a share of 50 m3.
By the time deserts were served, Professor had asked every head of the department on their departmental estimates on water consumption. He kept subtracting from 2400 m3. Finally, there was 150 m3of water left that could not be explained.
Professor took out another tissue paper. This time he circulated the paper across all the team members to give revised estimate. “I just thought I should give you another chance to refine” He said so politely.
Everyone changed their estimates this time as all wanted to show how water use efficient their department was. Professor subtracted the revised estimates from 2400 m3 and now the number of unexplained consumption was 250 m3.
GM Gaitonde and the team were watching. In the second round of calculations, they sure saw the high discrepancy. But Professor said nothing. He simply folded the tissue papers with his scribbling and put the folded papers in the front pocket of his tee shirt.
He got up from the dining chair and said “Colleagues, we better start moving now. I don’t want to face heavy highway traffic”.
The topic of conversation changed to traffic jams with ideas such as extension of Mumbai Pune highway all the way to Sachivalaya or the Secretariat.
“Thank you so much Gaitonde for this wonderful lunch and accommodating me and Dr Modak at a short notice”. Professor concluded the lunch meeting.
We reached GM Gaitonde’s office to collect our bags.
GM Gaitonde reached us to our car. We got in and our driver rolled up the windows and started the car air conditioner.
As we were about to move, Gaitonde asked the driver to lower down the window on the side Professor was sitting.
“Hey Friend, if you do not mind, could you pass me those tissue papers? “
As Professor reached his front pocket, GM Gaitonde said as an afterthought.
“May be keep this crap with you and send me a proposal for conducting a comprehensive water audit at our company. Let’s finalize the consultancy contract in the next week. I want to see zero unaccounted for water and every day matters”. His voice was a bit raised.
I also noticed that GM Gaitonde was a bit irritated.
When we reached the highway , Professor tapped my shoulder, smiled and said.
“So, Dr Modak, you just went through course 101 on how to hit business and gracefully so through conversations. You should never propose a business. Instead compel your client to do so through a clever conversation”
He looked outside the window.
“When will you offer course 102 Sir?. “ And I had to ask this question.
This story is of 1990. Installation of water meters and practice of water auditing were not the common then. I wonder how Professor would have handled GM Gaitonde in todays times.
But I do hope that the story will give you an insight to the “art” and “science” of doing business through clever conversations.