Years ago, an engineer in an automotive-industry plant thought that parts being supplied by a Fortune-500 company were not good enough. He founded our company because be believed he could supply a better part with tighter specifications.

The company began by accepting short-term contracts to handle “overflow” from the major supplier when their orders began to pile up and shipments began to get delayed. Over time, our company got exclusive contracts for some parts as our ability to deliver product with tighter specifications became evident and as the automotive industry began to demand those tighter specifications on their parts to meet ever-tighter emission controls.

But a large part of our business continued to be “overflow” – and, in the automotive industry, that meant significant fluctuations in volume from year-to-year, end even from week-to-week, so that the demands of managing “normal” business operations were anything but normal. Constant hiring and lay-offs, union relation problems exacerbated by the personnel situation, managing production materials, scheduling production, controlling management personnel levels and overhead costs were the order of business every day.

Looking back at that situation, I am still amazed that we were able to manage the company as well as we did in spite of so many areas where we could have done a much better job. We just didn’t know any better.

Relationships with our customers were probably the area where we fell down the worst. We had great relationships with the people in the trenches at our customers, where we were able to help them do their jobs and get product to the customer, but we failed to establish good relationships with the higher-ups. We should have been able to communicate to them how important we were to their customer, and how we made them look good in the customer’s eyes. We didn’t put near enough time and effort into building those relationships because we were too busy bailing-the-boat every day. Building those relationships would happen when we had the time and the occasion – someday. Our entire management team would have benefitted from professional courses to help us work better with the people in the trenches – courses on Establishing Rapport, Sales Writing Skills and Handling Objections.

Establishing rapport with top executives, selling our value to them at the highest levels, and building those relationships were skills we didn’t even think of as skills, but rather just something that probably should be done someday. Sure, we had some relationships with top-level executives of our customer, but nowhere near what it could or should have been. We should have put in place a specific plan to develop those relationships just as we had plans for production scheduling, layoffs, etc. Our executives who were in touch with higher-level personnel at our customers would have benefitted from additional courses in Presenting Solutions, Closing, Questioning for Needs and Account Presence.

Had we been able to do those things, our working relationship with our major customer would have been much better. We probably could have moved more of the business from an “overflow” situation to a “regular production” situation resulting in a more-level work flow, better employee relations, and, through a more-normal production environment, better parts for the ultimate customer.

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