Friday, March 2, 2012

No time for courtesies please!

I have stayed in quite a few cities so far  but Singapore is among the best. People in Singapore, my current home, are quite easy to get along. They are the most practical and the least complicated people I have ever met. They are always in a hurry, time is more than money for them. I learnt it the hard way when I managed to piss off a client at a "courtesy meeting". In my MBA I had learnt the importance of courtesy meetings in building strong relationships with clients. But that was in different context, different background. Things panned out quite differently in this meeting.

Our meeting started on a positive note by exchanging pleasantries. This meeting was a few weeks after a successful project completion and we were fishing for more business and wanted to be discrete about sales intent. We then started open ended discussions about economic challenges, impact on Singapore, impact on client's company, business decisions etc. It was meant to be a courtesy meeting hence no presentation or deliverable was planned. About 10 minutes into the meeting the client manager politely stopped the discussion and asked a straight forward question, "what is the purpose of this meeting?" "This is a courtesy meeting, we care about our relationship, we are not here to sell you anything now", came the text-book reply. "Well, from our perspective, what you sell to us builds relationship. Your solution is the oxygen of our relationship. If you have anything to sell, do come over. If we want buy something we will call you. What is this courtesy meeting all about?", he said in a very straight forward and nice way. We were stunned and left the meeting room in less than 3 1/2 minutes.

My Singaporean colleagues were not surprised. They had warned me that it was a bad idea anyway. Their explanation was an eye opener. It bolstered my theory about "How they eat, How they do business".

They told me that most of the Singaporeans have their lunch as well as dinner outside home. But they don't go to restaurants. They go to Food courts or hawker centers which are the most popular eating places in Singapore. These food courts are an ideal example of evolved standardization. They have similar variety of dishes, similar price points, standardized and quite hygienic. They provide common seating areas, common cutleries which you need to grab yourself. So basically these are practical, cheap places that offer great food but no experience. Nobody holds the door open for you,  no waiter pushes your chair, nobody takes the order nor replenish your drink. No experience, no courtesies at all.

If you want to eat, you go to food court. No courtesy visits, please. There is no time!

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