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It was the mid-70s.

There were five companies manufacturing credit card imprinter machines, those once ubiquitous manually operated devices that were used at point of sale to record credit card transactions. Two companies were members of the Fortune 500. One was a Fortune 1000 company. Of the remaining two, one had been in the business of manufacturing these devices for a half-dozen years, run by an experienced executive.

The  remaining firm was a two-year old start-up. The two Fortune 500 companies made the best equipment. The startup's equipment, not surprisingly, was at the other end of the quality spectrum. A distributor based  in New Zealand contacted each of the five manufacturers.

The distributor had a client that required 5,000 imprinters. Each manufacturer was asked to quote on the order. Which of the five got the order? What was the deciding factor? The order turned out to be only the first of hundreds that followed.

Sales mounted into 8 figures.

What at first looked like a nice order turned into very substantial business. Who got the order and the resulting business? If you guessed the startup, you are correct. The surprising thing is why they got the order. Several years after the first order, the startup’s CEO was in Wellington, New Zealand having lunch with the distributor’s managing director.

By now their relationship was quite good, so the CEO decided to broach the subject. The answer he got was not what he expected. “Tell me, why did you choose us rather than one of our competitors?”, he asked. He expected to hear, “You offered the best price”, or perhaps, “You offered the best terms.” Instead, as the managing director peered over the lip of his  upraised glass, the CEO  heard, “You answered”. Amazingly, not one of the other four manufacturers had bothered to respond. The startup won the order, and all the that followed, by default.

The lessons learned from this:   Leads are precious. Follow-up matters. A single lead can be worth  millions. The above is a true story. I know. I was the CEO.


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