Back to School!

Our car entered the narrow lane of the overcrowded Yaba area in Lagos as we proceeded to meet our prospect; a mid-size business into outdoor media. My colleague who accompanied me, had explained to me that the prospect was one of the leaders in the vertical and was in dire need of a suitable automation solution.

He quickly spoke to my driver in local Yoruba dialect and the car stopped in front of a dilapidated building. There was no road ahead. I gathered that we had entered a wrong lane. “Sir; Pls follow me. We are there”, he said. I was taken aback. My eyes wandered to locate the office of my prospect, but could find none. He guided me straight to the entrance of the dilapidated building!

Two ‘roughnecks’ were standing at the entrance. Both were smoking and were engaged in an animated dialogue. They had seen us getting down and walking towards the entrance. My heart missed a beat as their eyes sized me up from top to toe. I kept my face straight and walked past them to the building and entered a small room, which apparently was the reception!

An old hawkish lady greeted us and spoke to my colleague in a husky tone. She told him that the MD was expecting us and would be meeting us soon. I hardly heard her as I was totally bewildered at the décor and the location of the office.

I was terribly angry at my colleague and was livid from inside. Back home in India; it would have been my funeral on the same day had I taken my boss to a prospecting call of this nature. But this was Nigeria!

The door behind us creaked open and one of the ‘roughneck’ I had seen outside while entering, came into the room. Upon his entry; the receptionist got up immediately to greet him and she quickly left the room. “I am Ola; the MD of this company. You are welcome!. Pls follow me to the conference room”.

The floor below me moved as the statement sunk into me. I knew that something was terribly wrong and was glancing at my colleague who was in his thoughts, oblivious to my plight. How can this ‘roughneck’ be the ‘MD’? Does an ‘MD’ ever stand outside his office for a smoke? Where is the catch? My mind was racing furiously trying to make sense of the whole event.

We went in the conference room and our meeting started. Ola was a keen listener and he asked several key questions. I was beginning to feel better. Suddenly, he got up, glanced at his watch and almost jumped up in exclamation!. “I have to rush out. I have some important business to finish. Pls send me your offer for the product and then we will take this ahead”. We acknowledged his ‘hospitality’ and stepped out of the room after exchanging some niceties.

Once back in the car, I looked at my sales colleague squarely in his eyes. His eyes were shifting. He was not able to look back at me in my eyes. The whole story dawned on me. I had several questions for him. Who was the guy whom we actually met? Was my colleague related to him? Was this visit staged? Did my colleague sincerely believe that he could get business from this outfit? Was my colleague trying to show me that he was actually trying to make a sale, knowing that he lacked a good pipeline? Was he really so incompetent so as to ignore the basic rules of prospect qualification? He deserved to go back to school!

Our car swerved back on the main Western Avenue as we headed back to office. He was quiet. My driver sensed that something was wrong and broke the silence by hurling profanity at the okada driver on his side for making a wrong turn. I desperately wished he had hurled that at my colleague. I was trying to stay in control. I did succeed. Only till we reached back to our office.

He definitely did deserve to go back to school!

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Milind Wagh

Milind has been providing P&L leadership to MNCs, mid-stage businesses and new ventures over the last two decades and is credited for nurturing great teams for driving new self-funded initiatives from portfolio of ideas. 'Think Inward' attempts to explore matters of the mind that spur individuals and teams in addressing challenging situations and markets. It advocates the need to 'Think Inward' within ourselves. An Organization is all about human behaviour at work. The people; their mind-sets; their motivation and their emotions determine the nature of their 'emotional hooks' in that organization. 'Think Inward' attempts to decode these hooks and understand human behaviour at work.

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