Today in college (I do this two nights every week, remember?) we had a guest speaker. She was telling us about a failed 20-year old family business that served big-name clients. There was a CEO, his niece – a brilliant sales person who worked there for 10 years and CEO’s 20-something son with MBA and lots of ambitions. The niece was asked for Excel spreadsheets with her sales numbers, but she wasn’t too bright about that. Her specialty was selling – not spreasheeting. Eventually, the pressure from stiff CFO, the MBA-flaunting kid and her CEO uncle for those damn spreadsheets and numbers got so heavy that she left the company and took half of their clients with her. Rule number one – don’t mess with your sales people.
I call this a Five Dollar Problem, and here’s why. I happen to know just this type of sales person – bright, ambitious and persuasive. As I say – she can sell you snow in a winter and you gonna come back with your whole family asking for more. But she’s not good with anything that has to do with numbers, including computers. In fact – she doesn’t know how to use one. Trust me on this one for I tried so many times – and as many times I’ve failed. Her usual response is: “I don’t need to know computers, I have my husband for that” (yes, I’m talking about my wife). So when she was working in one elaborate place she (along with other workers) had to punch in her time sheets, how much time did she spent with each clients and what procedure she performed, what product she sold and so on. The regular spreadsheeting, you know. While being the most computer illiterate lady in New York save Statue of Liberty, she immediately figured out the solution to her problem. She was paying 5 dollars every week to their receptionist – a really nice college girl, who did my wife’s time sheet in less than 5 minutes.
Business owner was happy – she got the numbers she needed. My wife was happy – she didn’t have to struggle with those “complicated computers” every weekend and could get home earlier. And the receptionist girl was happy – she got every Saturday lunch for free. All it took to solve this problem is 5 dollars. Thus a name – a Five Dollar Problem. Meaning – the cost of solving this problem is exactly five dollars.
It is exactly the same problem as our guest speaker had presented. The problem that delivered one of the major cracks in the foundation of a 20-year old business. But rather than being demotivated, as we all get when we ask to submit to spreadsheeting, she solved the problem in a classic win-win scenario. It definitely didn’t break a business, it didn’t cost the business half of the clients, it was just that – a Five Dollar Problem.