So what?

The Flip chart board

When we were selling IBM products in the 70s, there were no MS  Office and Internet those days.  Therefore, we did not have the luxury of visiting websites to retrieve standard Powerpoint presentations and edit and modify them to suit our requirememts.

We used flip charts instead.

Sales guys with rolls of flip charts under their arms, carrying a flip chart board and a stand to the boot of their cars was a common sight those days.

Once the presentation content was composed and finalized, we would usually commission an artist to create the flip charts with beautiful artistic lettering using multi-coloured felt pens. I remember a very quiet young man named Mr. Das who used to write these flip charts for us in bold and large capital font, usually under the guidance of the presenter who prepared the content and was likely to make the presentation.

Since the flip charts cost money to make, some of the generic standard charts were preserved for future use as far as  possible, and were marked and stored in the Library. Typical generic titles would be “Inventory Control”, “Production Planning and Control” or “Sales Forecasting.” Whenever we had to make a presentation at a customer site, we would first go to the library and pick up the charts we needed. A little bit of due diligence would then be required to see if the charts were what we needed for our presentation, and remove some charts and add a few new ones if required, to suit our narrative.

The problem arose mainly because the requirements of clients differed quite a lot and Inventory control at Dunlop was not exactly the same as Inventory control in Telco. Similarly Production Planning at MAMC Durgapur would not be identical to that at Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) at Ranchi, and the way sales forecasting was done at ITC was certainly not the same way as it was done  for instance in Indian Aluminium (INDAL) or in Union Carbide.

The situation, background and the perspective were different and unique for each customer, and therefore it was virtually impossible to use a set of canned and standard flip charts without having to modify the charts to suit the narrative for a given client.

Unfortunately though there were occasions when there was no time for due diligence, and very often one would take a canned flip chart roll with the appropriate title, and rush off to a customer presentation, confident in the knowledge that this was a standard presentation that one has delivered many times in the past.

There were countless stories on the pitfalls of such lack of due diligence causing serious flipchart malfunctions.

There was one particularly funny story on Flipchart malfunction which I heard from our seasoned campaigner Ajay Malik .

Once in the middle of a pretty standard presentation Ajay suddenly came face to face with a chart that was completely unexpected. Written in large bold capital font right in the centre of the chart were the words:

SO WHAT?

My God! Where the hell did that come from? Ajay had no idea. The chart had absolutely no relevance to the context of his presentation at all.

While making a presentation, each presenter uses continuity and transition in his charts to build up his/her narrative to suit the customer situation in his own way. A different presenter in a different customer situation may well build up his narrative in an entirely different way. That is quite normal.

Perhaps the previous presenter was building up his case on the overcoming the challenges that the customer faced in managing their business, and perhaps he was trying move on to this chart to say: “So what? Do not worry, IBM is there to help you tide over your difficulties”!

However, as the case may be, any other lesser salesman would have been rattled by this unexpected intrusion, as it would have stopped him in the middle of his rhythm and flow.

But not our man, Ajay. No Sir!

He was a suave and confident IBM Sales Rep and was obviously built with sterner stuff.

He did not allow himself to be fluttered by the errant chart. He took one look at the chart, winked and smiled at his audience before they had a chance to react, and read out the “SO WHAT” very emphatically, with the utmost contempt, as if to say “So what if this silly chart has come in our way? Let us just ignore it and move on”.

He then flipped the chart over, and soldiered on with the rest of his presentation.