The Importance of When To Be Wrong When You Are Actually Right

Four years after leaving college I was fortunate to be placed in a sales position that exposed me to both domestic and international sales. My first sales call without my boss was to a Dow Jones 30 company. This company was the largest user of the materials we produced. We were a minor supplier to them at the time. There had been a two month long debate between my boss and the materials manager of the customer. The debate was over the tare weight of the packaging material. It amounted to .5 pounds difference with a value of $2.00. The total value of each package with our product ranged from $600.00-$800.00 so the .5 pound was nothing in my view. My boss had dug his heals in and instructed me to take care of the issue and stick to our position because we had the proof. We were correct in our position and had three scales certified to prove it.

When I arrived the customer's plant superintendent was there along with two operations people. They only had the one scale but this scale in their mind proved their point. The materials manager reported to the plant superintendent. I listened to them and realized it was a face issue with the superintendent. I made an instant decision and stated I could see by the scale they were correct. As a young man of 26 I did not know what I would tell my boss. When I returned I only said the problem was fixed. I purchased another scale and it was only used for this customer's products. The tare weight was adjusted by .5 pounds. Yes, I went against my supervisor but my boss was promoted and over the next three years our company increased market share from 15% market share to over 80% share with this customer. It added over $20m of sales annually to our business. We never lost our new market position with this account. I have always believed the decision I made that day and our continuing efforts there after went a long way in changing the customer's perception of our company. Over the years we developed a close working relationship.

My boss had similar issues in Japan and always took a hard line position. Most times he was correct in his position but the Japanese customers did not agree with him. I would at times try to smooth over the disagreements. These decisions had a small cost and we were able to build trust through cooperation and increase market share.

Of course, there were situations when I could not accept being wrong when I was right. The points I learned with my first customer visit were never lose sight of the long term goal of each individual issue, permit my ego to be wrong when I was right and have a business approach that was based on who I was as a person. There are times I left money on the table in small battles but it usually paid off over time. The lesson I learned that day served me well in the coming years and I was fortunate to learn it at a fairly young age.

My boss was a brilliant man and went on to become the chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 company. His approach was that everything was a battle and you fought to win them all. He was very successful in life. I could not be him and I had to find an approach that would fit me. There is no right or wrong way but it is important to find the way that enhances your ability to be a successful person. I found my way many years ago.