Asking the right question

Ask the Right Question

“I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”
Niccolo Machiavelli

I used to own and run a document imaging company in Des Moines, Iowa. My largest competitor was a publicly traded entity that specialized in microfilm and their largest customer was a Fortune 500 company.

I wanted to take this customer away from them. Unfortunately, my company did not have any experience with microfilm, nor did we have a processing lab or the necessary equipment to process microfilm. 

One afternoon, I ran into the senior procurement manager at the Fortune 500 company who handled all the outsourcing contracts. 

She liked the work we had done on their small mainframe-imaging project and jokingly mentioned that she wished my company also processed microfilm. 

I replied to her that we certainly could process all of their microfilm and asked, "What would it take to get their business?" She briefly vented about her current microfilm provider and their inability to perform up to their quality control standards, but did not reply to my question. 

So I repeated it. 

She laughed and stated without vacillating that we did not have the experience, personnel, or the equipment to manage the volume of work they needed to have done on a daily basis. 

Undeterred, I asked, "If we did have a facility, trained personal, and the proper quality control processes in place in six weeks, would you give us the opportunity to perform the work on an eight week probationary pilot program?" 

She didn't believe this was physically possible and replied, "Sure, six weeks from today if you can give us a tour of your facility and maintain an accuracy rate of 99.8% for 8 weeks, the business is yours". 

We delivered on our promise and eight weeks later, we were generating $50,000 of reoccurring monthly revenue with a Fortune 500 company.

The Bottom Line: If you ask the right question at the right time, you get the right answer.

Bruce Hunter is the Executive Director of the Office of Intellectual Property Optimization (IPO) at Rensselaer.