In 1982, I was Business Development Manager of Region ‘A’ – Africa at Land Rover Ltd – my ‘patch’ stretched from the Maghreb to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The territory compromised 27 individual states and annual sales of £27 million; I had three very able sales colleagues with me, they remain friends to this day.
One day we were chatting to colleagues on the second floor of the Engineering Block in Land Rover, Lode Lane, when Noel Green walked by.
With a degree of bitterness in his voice, Noel suggested that it would be great ‘if you bloody salesmen went out and sold something!’.
Noel was in charge of Order Control – the department between Sales and the Production Line, responsible for ensuring that vehicles were built in a timely fashion and according to the correct specification stipulated in the order ‘paperwork’.
‘Oh, stop moaning, Noel, we’re quoting a nine-month delivery delay.’
‘Not any more we’re not’, Noel replied. ‘I’ve got enough orders to keep this place going for about a fortnight.’
I remember the sinking feeling to this day.
What had happened was as follows: diesel engines were assembled in the Acocks Green plant, in another area of Birmingham.
Historically, their production was in some way restricted and could never keep up with chassis assembly in the main Lode Lane plant. Hence the delay in the finished product.
However, following a significant investment in said production facility in Acocks Green, the backlog of diesel engines had been wiped out in the space of a few weeks.
Our ‘backlog of orders’, our everso proud ‘delivery delay’ were all sitting up on the top car parks awaiting shipment ….. and of course, shipping space had to be booked in advance.
Suddenly we were all scrambling around, nationally and globally, for orders to feed a 34,000 unit per annum factory, whilst there were only 1300 unbuilt vehicles in the book.
If a market is ‘accustomed’ to having to wait an inordinately long time for its vehicles, it will develop the custom of going elsewhere, and you will have an uphill job re-accustomising it back to you.
Especially if the specification is not consumer friendly – perhaps more utilitarian than the Japanese competition.
Some lessons from this horrible tale:
Nobody told us and we didn’t bother to find out – Utter lack of self-responsibility.
We were too complacent about business (wouldn’t you be, with a 9 month order bank?)
We were not consistently pro-active, building bridges with new customers and markets.
In export markets particularly, it takes a long time to build relationships and to develop the trust required before a customer will place an order.
For example, the custom in the Middle East is to know someone for about 2 years before supply and demand are even discussed.
And yet we still see organsations reward only results, which are history, instead of actions and efforts today for tomorrow’s results.
Same old, same old ……….
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