Warm relationships, and no fuss either...

February 11, 2001
Dear Editor, I read about Indians going abroad and how difficult it was for them to adjust to the new environment, people, culture, food, and anything that is not Indian. You name it.

I have been abroad number of times and had my share of experiences. I have a had some very interesting experience where I learnt quite a few things, appreciated their style, liked their approach and began to inculcate some best practices.

It was some years ago; I was working as a Product Manager for a multinational company. We were selling medical equipment. I was sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA for training.

The day I landed in Milwaukee in early December, there was a huge snowstorm. It was late at night. I was wondering how I will be able to reach the apartment, whether there will be anybody to receive me.

I was asked to take a taxi from the Airport and reach the given address. We are used to somebody receiving us at the airport etc. There was no such thing. I had all kinds of doubts, whether I can make it to the place without any difficulty on the way.

I just gave the address to the taxi driver; I was at the place within twenty minutes. No problem. I went into the apartment building, there was a young man sitting at a desk, reading some book. (Later I came to know that he was a student studying at the local university and doing a part time job at night).

He instantly recognized me as the one to occupy a particular ... apartment. He pulled out an envelope and gave it to me. I asked him what it was. He didn't know.

I opened the envelope, I found the key to the apartment and a letter welcoming me and that I am supposed to contact so and so on phone the following morning who will take me to the work place.

I took the key, carried my luggage and went to the apartment as if I have been living there all my life. As I entered the apartment, I was so pleasantly surprised to see that everything was so well thought of and well organized.

I had a refrigerator (a couple of coke cans in it), cooking range, coffee maker, toaster, microwave oven, dish washer, washing machine, telephone and a full set of crockery. All I needed was to buy a few provisions; I could start living there.

After a few days of getting orientation, I was to go along with a local salesman from the local branch office and visit a few clients to understand how client interaction takes place.

I met Dale Jones at the District office. After introducing each other and exchanging a few pleasantries, he asked me to call him Dale (first name basis). That put me at ease and made our total conversation very friendly.

We were to discuss a particular product with a senior doctor at Milwaukee Medical Center. We reached there just about five minutes prior to the appointment.

To my utter delight, the doctor was also there at exact time. Even more surprising was to see how well prepared he was. He had all the questions on our proposal and told us exactly what he was looking for.

Dale asked the client a few questions to understand his needs better and made appropriate notes. Dale didn't get overly enthusiastic nor made any unnecessary commitments.

Dale answered some of the questions but there were other questions for which he wanted to check with other people in the organization. We agreed that we would meet again two days later at a specific time to discuss the issue further.

As we were leaving, the doctor mentioned that he liked a particular poster of the company where cases from their hospital were featured. It would be nice if a few of them were handy so that he can give it to other doctor friends.

The meeting ended in 15 minutes with both parties understanding exactly what is required to be done.

There was mutual respect, knowledge, understanding and time consciousness. Even more interesting was to see a big box lying in Dale's cabin the next morning when I arrived at the office. I asked him what it was. He said he has organized the posters, which the doctor mentioned the previous day.

They were ready to leave for the hospital. I can't imagine how pleased the client would have been to see them the very next day, though he just made a casual mention of it. I hear people talking about professionalism, but I saw it in action.

One day, during my travel with Dale to see another client, I was asking him some technical questions on the product. In India, we believe that technical knowledge is everything.

Though he is a senior salesman, he didn't have answers for all my questions. But he didn't hesitate to acknowledge it. He said he would look for some books on the subject and let me know.

The following day, I was attending a training course at a local hotel. During lunch break, Dale was there with the books. I never expected such a response from him. One thing I really understood, they believed in building relationships, which is more helpful in winning a sale than technical knowledge. They truly practiced it. After all I was not his client.

It was Christmas time; a lot of celebration was going on. Everybody was in a holiday mood. I was alone. I am neither Christian nor had I anybody to celebrate with.

A couple of days before Christmas, Dale invited me to go over to his place on Christmas day. I thought why not. He gave me a map to show how to reach his house and I made it.

Contrary to all our beliefs and the stories we heard, I saw a very warm and a friendly family. His brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law and the whole family were there.

I felt it was really an honor to be invited to a family get-together. He introduced me to every member of his family. His family was in a holiday mood. Some were playing cards, some were playing table tennis, and some just enjoying a drink and chatting.

The last person I met was the boyfriend of his younger sister. In India, we can't even imagine the sister having a boyfriend leave alone having him at home. This was totally different from my understanding of a family life in the US. I joined them and enjoyed myself. Believe me they made me feel at home.

One thing I didn't tell you - Dale was some fifteen years older to me. He was very senior in the organization, well qualified, knowledgeable and very successful.

I asked him why he is working as a sales rep and why he was not a manager. He told me that he was offered a management position at the headquarters but he didn't take it. Why? Because he liked being a salesman and thoroughly enjoyed selling. Moreover, there is more money by way commissions, incentives etc.

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