“What’s in it for us?”
This question should be banned. It is an idea killer.
I have received a lot of positive feedback from my first exclusive column for CCJ about transportation research and development projects at Auburn University. In talking to some prospective participants in a future project, they asked the seemingly innocent and reasonable question, “What’s in it for us?”
As I was answering that question my mind flashed back. I recalled in detail one of my greatest ideas.
But the idea never saw the light of day. It was killed when a corporate sharpshooter asked the question “What’s in it for corporate?”
I thought I gave the perfect answer, but it wasn’t elegant enough to be accepted as adequate for corporate.
Shall we time travel and see if there is a lesson to be learned?
At the time I was a contract fleet sales manager working for National Seating Company (NSC), before it was acquired by Commercial Vehicle Group (CVG). Before the acquisition, NSC was an employee-owned family-style business. Decisions were made fast and accurately at that time because they were made by small well-informed groups of managers who had grown up in the air ride seat business.
CVG imposed some “much needed” corporate discipline. As life went on, a decision-making hierarchy was imposed and new ideas and changes had to go up the chain of command.
As an independent fleet sales manager, I used my expertise to not only help NSC, but to also help other companies that wanted to participate in the fleet pull-through model of sales. Counteract Balancing Beads (CBB) contracted with me to help them get into the major fleets I already had as customers.
I am a big believer in cross-marketing. That’s where you promote products that naturally go together. I saw an opportunity for NSC and CBB to work together to reduce total vehicle vibration that would benefit fleets, their drivers, CBB and NSC.
CBB had grown their business by using two tried-and-true marketing techniques: Try it, you’ll like it (start by balancing the steer tires and wheel ends); and bet you can’t eat just one (wait until you see what we can do on drive and trailer tires).
My brainstorm idea was to include two bags of CCB product in the seat pocket with every NSC seat with the map pocket option. This would give the seat purchaser the ability to have his steer tires balanced with his new seat installation.
A brochure would discuss how the top-of-the-line National Seat dampens the vibration that comes through the floor of the cab, but doesn’t do much for the steering wheel vibration associated with front wheel out-of-balance. CBB eliminates steering wheel vibration.
Vibration for eight hours on the back and buttocks is bad enough, but when you include hands and arms, a driver’s body is being totally abused by whole-body vibration (WBV). If you happen to be a LinkedIn member, use the search box on LinkedIn to find and join several groups discussing WBV, including one of mine, to learn more.
CBB loved the idea and was ready to ship a truckload of free product to NSC for the program, and brochures were approved at both companies. But my answer to the corporation’s question, “What’s in it for us?” wasn’t acceptable.
“We heard you, Bob,” but again, “Tell us what’s in it for us?”
I did not get approval from corporate. I don’t usually give up easily, but having to fight over what I consider a self-evident idea just wasn’t in me at the time because NSC just saw me as a lowly fleet sales guy. Normally I would not refer to any position as lowly, but corporate fired the entire fleet sales crew and replaced us with reps who only call on service outlets, not fleets. This corporate decision was based on the concept that purchase orders never came from fleets.
I asked myself the question, “What’s in it for Bob” to keep fighting the good fight? In the short- and long-term, there was nothing.
Please ban “What’s in it for us?” from your corporate or company culture, or accept these two concepts as legitimate answers: “It’s good for the industry," and “Please look at the big picture.”
Bob Rutherford is a 50-year veteran of the trucking industry. Thirty of those years were as a member of the TMC where he earned both the Silver Spark Plug and Recognized Associate awards for his contributions to the industry. He currently is an industry advisor to Auburn University’s Transportation Institute working with student engineers on tomorrow’s solutions.