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Everybody out – true tales from an ex-IT support man Episode 19

The video library software company I had joined was essentially a one-man-and-a-dog outfit, except there were three of us not including the lady who did the reception/secretarial work and I don’t think she’d like to be referred to as a dog, however appropriate the description might have been.
At first we struggled to get clients, as all start-ups do, but Norman said he could sell snow to Eskimos (I know this phrase is not PC – so, sue me for using a colloquialism), we gradually increased the size of the portfolio.
As I already mentioned (episode 18) we were effectively the European distribution arm of a San Francisco based company. Norman once recounted to us of a show he did in Las Vegas with the parent company at which the owners and the technical director were present on the stand. Something a sales-oriented companies know well is that you never include technicians on a sales & marketing event as techies tend to tell the truth. So, in this instance, the technical director and the author of the system we were selling, I’ll call him Mike, was, how shall I describe him? I know – a character… 
He was a retired Vietnam war veteran, an ex-helicopter pilot who asked for an additional two tours of duty after having been sent home following his obligatory tour of duty, not because he was patriotic, but because he loved the adrenalin rush. He was an alcoholic chain-smoker with very little filter for life
More of Mike later, when I went to spend a couple of days with him. 
So, the stand in Las Vegas was rammed with potential customers and several existing ones, and everyone on the stand was talking to punters except Mike. An existing client then came onto the stand and looked for someone to speak to about the product as he had some questions. Now, when I say “existing client” I mean he was one of the biggest client the company had.  Normally he would have been dealt with and schmoozed by one of the two main owners of the company but they were deep in conversation with potential clients, so this guy headed for Mike. Everyone who knew him held their breath as he started talking to the client, knowing that a sizeable chunk of revenue was at risk but, as they watched nervously, Mike appeared to be almost human. The client was reeling off a series of things he wanted the system to do from what looked like a cash register receipt roll, what he didn’t like about the system, nothing much positive being given to Mike. And all the while, Mike was standing there, listening intently to this guy and calmly stroking his beard (Mike’s!) and nodding as each suggestion was made. The company owners and Norman relaxed slightly at this, as it seemed the calm Mike had turned up that day. The client came to the end of his list, handed it to Mike and stood back a little. Mike examined the list, unrolling the piece of paper to its full extent (about four feet) , all the while nodding and making “Uh-huh” sounds as he worked his way down the list. When he reached the bottom of the list, he looked a the client and said “So, you use our system, but you want it to have all the things on your list incorporated into it at no cost?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
“Do any of the other systems that are available have these?” asked Mike.
“No” said the client.
“Do any of the other systems that are available come close to the functionality we have?” asked Mike.
“No” said the client.
“And,” asked Mike, “You seriously want the software to have all these functions?”
“Yes” said the client.
“Yeah,” replied Mike. "So would I. Now get back under the rock you came from." (I paraphrase here for the sake of decency). Needless to say, the client was gobsmacked – apparently, he we just opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish, speechless at what he’d just been told.
At this point, Norman and the two other owners sprinted across the stand to limit the damage that may have been caused, pushed Mike out of the way and threw a blanket of corporate consolation around the client in an attempt to retain his business. The stand was next to the one for Playboy and that particular day, Hugh Hefner happened to be on the Playboy stand and the owners knew him, slightly, so they took the client over to speak to him (and, of course, the several Playboy models who were on the stand with him) to take his mind off what he’d just heard. It worked, by the way
We found trade shows reasonably successful to generate leads. One show, in particular, stands out in my memory. If you’ve read previous episodes, specifically the last one (18), you might recall the third wheel in this tricycle of technology, Jeff. Jeff had his own retail outlets in addition to being the Sales Director of the company, with several staff working for him, one of whom was a very slim, attractive young lady with a long neck (she claimed she had an additional neck vertebra which sometimes caused her head to get stuck if she threw back her head to laugh or look at the ceiling while standing up, necessitating one of us to go and push her head back into place – let’s call her Alice), and very long legs. She was built like an anorexic whippet, though, and could have done with a few pounds extra, in my opinion but, given the extent of my own horizontally challenged existence (I’m about 2ft short for my weight), who am I to comment?
Anyway, the trade show I mentioned above was held at the NEC Birmingham and was a showcase for retailers, suppliers and film studios to advertise their offerings. It was quite surreal, where the organisers had placed our stand: immediately adjacent was the stand advertising The Krays video release, with a fully working bar in the form of The Blind Beggar East End pub. Flock wallpaper, moulded plaster ceilings, the works – even the carpet was a little sticky. Hanging above us was half of a DeLorean as seen in the Back to the Future trilogy, suspended from the ceiling. Like I said, surreal.
While setting up I noticed that, despite having asked for at least four double electrical sockets on the stand, the organisers had only given us two. I was prepared for this – I’d brought a few 4-gang extension cables, so I started plugging these in, during which process I felt someone looking over my shoulder watching me. I’d just plugged in the second 4-gang when I heard someone say “Are you a card carrier, then?”
Being, at the time, somewhat naïve in the sphere of industrial politics, I asked what he was on about. “Are you a card carrier” he repeated. “You know, an electricians’ union member”
“No”, I said.
He stepped off the stand and shouted “EVERYBODY OUT – SCAB LABOUR”, This shut down the whole of the event preparation process with all electricians and constructors walking out of the NEC. Norman ran over and started talking to the chap who’d done the shouting – he
turned out to be the shop-floor foreman and union rep. Long story short, it cost Norman £50 for me to have a temporary membership to the union for the day…
Alice accompanied us on this show (as did a minor celebrity from a popular comedy show whom Jeff knew and though she might come in handy to draw in the punters) as most of the retail trade were men and, in general, had not long migrated away from video porn so were attracted to the stand because of Alice, being the eye-candy device we were employing (she was happy for the attention she got) but trade was a bit quiet to start with, even though the Krays stand was packed to the rafters, less for the product than the free booze it was dishing out. 
So, Alice took it upon herself to adjust her stockings. She was wearing a long, black skirt with a wrap-over front and a long slit up the side. She put a stiletto-heeled foot onto a chair that was on the stand and started adjusting her hosiery, allowing her skirt to open up to reveal her upper thigh and the suspenders she was wearing, while she “adjusted” the stockings. It was like flies to a manure heap – within seconds, most of the Krays’ stand had migrated to ours, along with several passers-by.
We got a lot of leads that day.
That night we went back to the hotel. I went to my room, had a shower and changed into civvies, then went down to the bar to meet up with the others for dinner and a discussion on the day. I found Norman and the others in the bar. Jeff went with Alice and his celebrity friend to the table we’d booked while I ordered a drink. 
Norman started chatting to a young lady standing at the bar who was wearing a figure-hugging, bright blue Lycra one-piece that looked like she had either been poured into it or it had been sprayed on. 
One thing I did marvel at was Norman’s gift of the gab. He turned to her and asked “How do you get into that outfit?”, to which she replied “ Well, a gin and tonic would be a start”. Cliché, perhaps, but nevertheless true. He bought her a drink and waved me away and shortly thereafter, they disappeared together and I went to the table with the others.
Later, we all went upstairs to the rooms. A few minutes afterwards, I heard some raised voices which I figured were Norman and our celebrity friend, followed what sounded like a face being slapped. It transpired that I had heard correctly – Norman, being three sheets to the wind, had propositioned her and, when she had rebuffed his insolent suggestion, he called her a lesbian so she walloped him and then left the hotel and went home.

His gob got him into trouble sometimes.
That’s enough for this one – I can hear the snoring through the screen…