Wednesday, December 22, 2004

...Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

My former boss and current business partner, Bob, is a great guy who I respect and admire, but he’s one of those people who has the annoying habit of always taking the “Devil’s Advocate” position, often debating you over things you know he actually agrees with you on just for the sake of debating.

Case in point:

Our company, considering our small size, sells a pretty incredible amount of product for D., a small manufacturer out of the Midwest. We’re a good fit for each other – their product line has fairly limited distribution, making it easier for a small company like us to compete in the market, plus their line comes with other strategic advantages (like super long warranty periods) that make it an attractive product for our customers and us. We’re an attractive reseller to them because they know that, being small, we have a limited number of lines that we represent so their product will always be pushed heavily by us, unlike some larger dealers where D’s product line is just one of several dozen carried and thus more likely to get ignored.

But more so than anything else, it is our great relationship with Jeff, who manages our account at D., that has caused us to embrace this product line so heavily. Jeff is just an overall good guy. He is reasonably honest as far as salespeople go, calls often just to stay in touch and to see if there is anything he can help us out with and will always bend over backwards for us if we have a special request or need something in a hurry.

Because I so firmly believed we shared such a great, mutually beneficial relationship, it came as somewhat of an insult to me at this time last year to find that in appreciation of our terrific year in sales with his company, Jeff had sent my partners and I one of those generic Hickory Farms beef log packages to share between us.

Before I come off as sounding eternally ungrateful, I should explain that we had purchased an extraordinarily high quantity of product from Jeff’s company that year, meaning a great deal of profit for D. as a company, and by extension, Jeff personally. This was a classic case where I think it would have been less insulting had Jeff purchased us nothing at all, rather than buy us the most impersonal gift possible, a gesture that only signified that Jeff put absolutely zero thought, effort (or money) into the purchase.

What bothered me most was feeling like I had to appear somehow full of gratitude and obligated to push D.’s product even harder than before just because Jeff went through the absolute minimal effort of buying us a log of questionable meat product and a few stale crackers. By coincidence we placed a relatively large order with D. a day or two after receiving the beef log package, resulting in a phone call from Jeff who commented, “You guys sure do appreciate that gift I sent you, huh?” It was real hard to bite my tongue on that one.

In the grand scheme of things, I really didn’t take this all that seriously, but I did jokingly mention to my business partners how tacky I found the gift to be. Bob of course had to take the opposing point of view, attempting to convince me that not only was the beef log package an incredibly kind of thoughtful gesture on Jeff’s part, but also a great and wonderful gift in and of itself. The fact the beef log went entirely untouched for weeks afterward didn’t do a whole lot to further his argument.

A perfect opportunity to call Bob’s bluff came just a short time later. Our account manager at a different vendor had given us a lead that ultimately turned into a six-figure sale for us. We all thought it would be a nice gesture to send this particular account manager a gift to show our appreciation for the great lead. My partners all started throwing out rather pricey gift ideas, like a new tool set, expensive video equipment, etc. I suggested a beef log package (around $20). Bob started to protest, suggesting that a beef log package might seem a bit chintzy considering the size of the sale. I reminded Bob that it was he who had enlightened me to the wondrous joy that is a beef log. I’m sure you’ll all be surprised to learn I’m still waiting for my thank you note from this particular vendor. Nor have we received any more leads from them, come to think of it. NOTE TO SELF: Don’t sacrifice potentially lucrative sales just to prove a philosophical point.

To Jeff's credit, his gift-buying skills have improved greatly over the past year (or maybe it's just because we had an even better year in sales) because we all just received individual bottles of wine from him. The twist-off cap leads me to believe this may not be the finest of vintages, but hey, it was a nice gesture. My business partners must really appreciate all I do around here too, because they got me this:

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