Sometimes, you just get lucky, or you’re in the right place at the right time. Being successful in sales takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and downright stubbornness. It also takes preparation and long work hours because nothing good simply falls into your lap. Or does it? I am about to tell you a true and amazing story. Even though it happened to me, I sometimes have a hard time believing it myself.
The year was 1975, and I was working for Rockwell International’s Maine Electronics in Lisbon, Maine. I had just been promoted into what was called contract administration, which was really the sales department. Being the newbie in that department, it was my job to handle the in-house programs like Minuteman and F-111. I had just completed the huge annual Minuteman quotation and did not have much to do. So, my boss suggested that I do an inventory of finished goods.
This task meant going over to the finished goods cage, taking out all of the boards for a customer, bringing them back to my desk, and listing the customer’s boards by part number, revision, date code, and quantity. This was all done by hand since this was in the days before desktop computers and computerized inventory. My boss told me to start with some of the oldest boards and work my way to the newest ones.
The oldest boards I found had not actually been built by Rockwell; they had been built by the company that Rockwell had purchased three years before (Maine Research), which was the original company on that site. The first box of boards I brought to my desk was for a company called Norsk Data Electronikk (NDE), and they were almost five years old. Again, Maine Research had built the boards for NDE—not Rockwell—which is important to my story because no one had heard from this Norwegian company in years.
As I start sorting the boards and laying out the wrapped bundles on my desk, my phone rang. When I picked it up, the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Hello, my name is Aage Nord, and I am calling from NDE in Oslo, Norway.” I was so stunned that I didn’t speak at first, so he said, “Hello? Is anyone there?” I finally greeted him, and after a few niceties, I asked, “How can I help you?” He responded, “A few years ago, we had some PCBs built by Maine Research, and we are hoping you might still have some in stock.” As he said this, I was looking at 10 or so stacks of NDE boards! I said,” Yes, Mr. Nord, we do. Which ones do you need?”
Nord must have been floored because it took him a good 20 seconds to answer. When he did, he said, “You do? Really? This is unbelievable! I am looking for PN 12463-A. Do you have any of those in stock?” I could tell that he was not believing this was happening so easily. I really floored him when I said, “I have 20 pieces right here that I can send to you today.” Again, there was a long silence because I’m sure that he thought I was lying to him. Remember, this was before the days of computers, so I should not have been able to answer him as quickly as I did.
After gaining his composure, Nord asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir, I have them right here on my desk.” At this point, even I was amazed at how this was happening. He wanted them shipped that day, so he gave me the details of how he wanted them shipped and asked if we could build more boards for him. Nord explained how they had just invented a mini-computer and were unhappy with their European suppliers, and he wanted to know if we could build a family of 10 new part numbers in two weeks. He would come in with the artwork and help us.
Without batting an eye, I said that we could. At this point, the story was so amazing that I was confident that I could talk the powers that be into making this happen (even though at that time, we shipped nothing in two weeks). I thought the higher-ups would jump at the opportunity, and they did. A week later, Nord came to the U.S. It was such a big deal that my boss and I picked him up at Boston Logan International Airport and drove him to Maine. We spent the next two weeks with him, building his boards and becoming great friends.
The rest of the story is that he insisted I come to Norway to visit his company. I did exactly that for a week each summer for the next five years while his company did nearly a million dollars a year with us over that time. Overall, they spent about $5 million with us and were our largest non-Rockwell customer. Sometimes, you just get lucky.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.