“How is your dog?” I asked the man who I thought was Melvin.
“I don't have a dog,” he answered.
“Yes you do,” I assured him. Just yesterday, Melvin had e-mailed me pictures of a large golden retriever.
“I don't,” he assured me, adding cream to his coffee.
“Huh,” I said, puzzled.
We were at a local restaurant for our Builders' Breakfast, which we were hosting to introduce a few new product lines. This was the first time I was actually meeting Melvin, who was a purchasing manager for one of our larger builders.
“Well, how is your wife?” I asked.
“I don't have a wife,” he told me.
Now that was ridiculous. Of course he had a wife. She was in the picture with the dog.
I had diligently pestered Melvin to come to this breakfast. Melvin's company preferred its purchasers to keep salespeople at arm's length and therefore didn't want us to make frequent sales visits. I thought the breakfast would be a great opportunity to finally meet Melvin and a few other people from his office. But things weren't going so smoothly.
“More coffee?” I asked, even though his cup was full, stalling for time to compose myself.
We don't have these kind of functions very often. When we do have them, they usually turn into something of a fire drill. Should we have everyone sit for breakfast? Should we make the presentations before or after we eat? How long should people talk? Who should sit where?
All these decisions are made during an organizational “meeting” that is held the morning prior to the event and lasts all of 10 minutes. Everyone always thinks something is more important than a meeting, and a meeting about a meeting is even harder to muster support for. Salespeople's eyes glaze over fast when you start discussions about dress codes and seating charts.
But this part should have been easy. Why would Melvin be pretending he didn't have a dog or a wife? What was going on here? Was this some sort of inside joke that only purchasing managers were in on?
“So then, Melvin ...,” I started.
“Why would you call me that?” he asked.
“Call you what?”
“Because that's your name,” I said.
“No it's not,” he told me.
“Yes it is,” I assured him.
At that point, I remembered someone mentioning name tags at the planning meeting. Someone was supposed to check in the supply closet to find the ones leftover from the last Builders' Breakfast.
“My name is Marvin.”
“You're sure?” I asked. I felt oddly relieved. While I had just badly embarrassed myself, at least I wasn't going crazy.
As individuals and as an organization, we much prefer to do things rather than talk about them. Our salespeople prefer to interact with clients rather than plan marketing strategies. Reorganizing the yards is typically a trial-and-error ordeal rather than a carefully designed plan. It's great that we're active and enjoy rolling up our sleeves, but meetings and planning are part of business, too.
Luckily, that day's presentations went well and our salespeople did a great job mixing and meeting with the builders. And I eventually found the real Melvin. It turns out his dog and his wife are doing fine.
All in all, it was a very successful event. We just needed to spend a little more time in planning to get every little detail—like the name tags—just right. Instead of a 10-minute organizational meeting, next time we'll stretch it to 12 minutes.