Use surprise to demonstrate technological excellence

I understand that IBM once delivered their response to tender for a public telephone exchange system in a safe. The puzzled customer tried in vain to find the combination and rang up IBM in some annoyance to complain that he could not get to their offer. ‘Are we on the short list?’ replied IBM. ‘Of course not,’ said the customer, ‘We cannot draw up the short list until we have looked at all the proposals including yours’. ‘Ah,’ said IBM, ‘Our proposals include information on technology that is not released to the public as yet and is years ahead of our competitors and therefore top secret. If you are talking to a lot of manufacturers the information is bound to leak. In any case some competitors may be making a wild proposal based on old technologies that give them a cheap and cheerful solution and may in that way get on to the short list.

‘We are happy to share this information when you have got the list down to a few because we know that when you give the proposals serious consideration we will win hands down, and the information leak will not be so important. You can have the combination number of the safe when you confirm that we are on the short list.’

An interesting gamble this, given that the customer may just be irritated by the arrogance of the approach, but a reasonable risk, I think, since the customer is also going to be intrigued to see what the new technology does. Anyway, in the example quoted to me it worked and IBM was on the short list and won the business. The additional benefit the surprise opening gave them was that the amount of work they had to do to win the business was very much reduced since the other companies had to battle to get on to the short list in a campaign that took three months.