Far too many people and companies appear to be losing focus in their relentless
pursuit of volume. They want to get big, gain more followers, sell more things’n stuff, etc. Sooner or later, they begin to overlook the smaller details. Allow me to share with you how the smallest of details, something that might not even seem relevant, cost my company a lot of business and (I believe) caused us to lose a valuable customer. Early in my career I was fortunate enough to learn to sweat the small stuff. Although I didn't feel all that fortunate as the events unfolded, the lesson learned has served me extraordinarily well ever since.
In the late 90’s, I was working for Unisys and was the global account manager for FedEx. We had been invited to respond to an RFP for a sizable project to which we (at the time), were particularly qualified for as we were one of very few vendors who had successfully deployed RFID technology at scale. Our qualifications were excellent!
During the first gulf war a squadron of Apache helicopters were grounded as they had not adequately anticipated the amount of dust that the units would take on flying in the desert. Subsequently, many were grounded while they waited for upgraded air filters. What got the attention of a four-star general was that the shipment was lost in transit further delaying the redeployment of these Apache helicopters. [Side note: you do not want to be on the receiving end of the attention of a four-star general who’s assets were rendered useless for a lengthy period of time.]
After the war ended, the government contracted with Unisys to deploy a solution that leveraged RFID technology to provide end-to-end visibility of everything from soap, to boots to Humvee’s and tanks. [If interested: you can read more about the ITV project here.] The team I was leading put forth a comprehensive proposal that carefully considered all of FedEx’s requirements and included some (what we felt were) valuable unconsidered needs. Needless to say we felt confident that at the very least we would make it through the first round of cuts and be invited in for verbal presentations. WE DID NOT; and when we received notification that we had not made the shortlist, it was simply “Thank you for your submission. At this time we are considering other partner(s)”.
Now, no one knows for sure why we were eliminated, but here’s is what I believe. Allow me to take you back to the late 1990’s (before the digital/online revolution), when large scale proposals like this were still printed on paper and assembled into large three-ring binders with custom graphics for each proposal. More time and energy went into the graphics and messaging back then than most companies spend on their actual solutions today. We had read and reread each of the hundreds of pages. We inspected every element, dotted every “I” and crossed every “T”. I remember the feeling when I received the courier package from our proposal documentation team in Lombard, Illinois with the the final draft that I had to sign-off on. Let me tell you, as I first laid eyes on the binders I was filled with excitement as they were magnificent! Practically works of art.
However, with me working out of our Atlanta office, and our proposal team half-way across the country, there was one small detail that I had missed... that everyone had missed. Our ‘corporate courier service’ was with UPS, and you can probably guess what happened next. Focusing all our attention to the proposal itself, and without thinking, our team had sent our ‘magnificent’ proposal to FedEx. . . via UPS; their number one competitor. Back then I believe UPS was the only, and some might argue is still the only competition to FedEx.
For that reason alone I believe we were immediately removed from any further consideration. Months of time and thousands of man-hours of work were lost in the blink of an eye. You see, it is often difficult to know just which of the many minor details will turn out to be significant; maybe more so than you might ever know. Therefore you must sweat every detail you can and never dismiss any of them without consideration. If you want to do well at anything, you must pay attention to the details and “sweat the small stuff”. This is more important in the business world than almost anywhere else; save for maybe brain surgery!
Another few other examples of mistakes like this I have either heard or seen personally over the years are: (along with SMH rating!)
- Landing in Detroit, MI to go meet with General Motors and renting a car from Hertz because your company’s ‘corporate policy’ or contract is with them; however one time Hertz was owned by Ford and only offered Ford vehicles. [That's worth at least one 🤦♂️.]
- Flying from Atlanta to Houston to visit Continental Airlines, but chose Delta Air Lines because well, if you've ever lived in Atlanta... everyone used to fly Delta and often they have the most non-stop or only service to a particular destination. (And everyone wants their airmiles right?) [That'll get you one 🤦♂️ for the poor decision and second 🤦♂️ for the airmiles.]
- Or like one of my business partners who came to Lenovo for a presentation and tried to use an Apple MacBook citing “this is the only device my IT department gave me”. When I threatened to confiscate his device and throw it from the roof of building, he promptly ran out to the closest Best Buy where he purchased a Lenovo laptop to use for his future meetings with. . . LENOVO. [This one gets three full 🤦♂️🤦♂️🤦♂️'s]
Don’t EVER lose sight of the details! As Admiral William McRaven said in his commencement speech to the University of Texas, “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never be able to do the big things right.”