“Meet me at the showroom at 7:30 tomorrow morning,” the boss told me late one afternoon. “I'm bringing some people from Dean Homes around to see the place.”

Dean Homes was a very large new-home builder in our market. The thought of meeting “some people” from their organization should have wound me up, but instead I was subdued, almost pessimistic. I knew Dean Homes bought their cabinets from King Cabinets.

King Cabinets is just about the largest cabinet retailer in our area. They specialize in volume sales to tract builders like Dean and promise the lowest prices. They have about 10 showrooms and are constantly landing large accounts in our area. I'm used to seeing their ads in every paper and their trucks in every development. The brutish size of their company and the might of their massive marketing campaign had even me, their competitor, convinced of the company's competence.

My boss has a relationship with Dean Homes that developed from other business, and it is normal for him to bring people like that through the showroom. I assumed that the meeting with Dean Homes would be a pleasant exchange of business cards and nothing more.

When the group arrived I was surprised to be introduced to the president, the head architect, the product manager, the assistant architect, the sales manager, and a guy named Fred who just hung around. Despite the impressive assembly of decision makers, I still wasn't going to kid myself into thinking we had a chance because King Cabinets had been Dean Homes' supplier for more than 10 years.

After we gave the Dean crew a tour, we talked about our products, our design and installation services, and our design philosophies. I was casual, being careful not to slip into “pitch” mode. King Cabinets was ever on my mind.

Even as the Dean Homes entourage began delving deeper, asking about lead times, fill-in orders, and billing procedures, my demeanor remained professional but non-aggressive. “This is not a presentation,” I kept telling myself.

So I was floored when one of the partners told me they'd like us to quote on a project that was starting in two weeks.

I'd like to think that my casualness toward the meeting instilled such calm, reassuring confidence in Dean Homes that they simply had to give us some business, but that was not the case. As it turns out, Dean Homes did have a pressing business need when they came to that meeting—we just didn't know about it.

When they revealed their need, I was floored again. They were dissatisfied with King Cabinet's higher-end services.