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Seeing is Believing

Knowing your limits is no casual thing.

Because they interpret, manipulate and are acclimated to numbers, many engineers fancy themselves superior to the rest. The “rest” are lumped into the catchall contemptuous categories of “salesmen” or worse, “accountants.” No room for improvisation; a certain analytical mindset likes it that way. Stay out of sales as a career option.

Pity those same engineers don’t look up more from their algorithms, develop a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, read the room, and discern clients’ actual intent. Supply doesn’t ensure demand; sometimes you must stir it up in English rather than second derivatives. A skill largely born, not bred. That’s also why there will always be a need for good sales folks; the best, most adventurous of whom are at ease technically, thus better equipped to know whereof they speak, and why, and make commitments on the spot, without appealing to the Mothership.

For context, consider this striking lesson from 2012.

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Rob Boguski

Engineers know a snow job when they hear it.

Dear Mr. Christ,

Knowing you’re a busy man, we’ll cut to the chase: Our firm is offering you an exclusive list of the five million attendees to your recent motivational speech on the mountain. Our proprietary Digitaldisciple algorithms identify those most receptive to your message, broken down by district in Judea, so you can focus on the finer points of conversion, based on leaders and laggards, attendance-wise. We’ve done the work, so you don’t have to, for a very – dare we say it – revelatory price. Others promise salvation in the form of prescreened customer lists, but only we deliver. Accept no substitutes! Click the link at the bottom of this email, and a customer service representative will contact you soon about how we can make the Beatitudes work for you!

You know those lists? Of course you do.

They’re the ones whose salespersons relentlessly appeal to our inner greed, breathlessly promising delivery to the recipient of a complete roster of attendees to one’s favorite trade show. Or equipment users’ group. Or industry association annual meeting. All guaranteed.


The unspoken and alluring premise is a name on a list is simply a customer you have yet to contact. Who doesn’t want a new customer? Better yet, a complete list of vetted customers? These services furnish the list. All you have to do is follow up.

Their pitch probably lands in your inbox or spam folder regularly. For many, that means weekly. For a “privileged” cohort, daily. Usually deleted upon arrival. Too good to be true.

Is it?

Ever wonder how they work? I tried an experiment.

Beginning Feb. 7, 2022, and ending Jun. 10, 2022, I saved every email appeal for list services. In those 88 business days (no holidays included), 206 unsolicited pitches arrived in my inbox. That’s 2.34 per working day, a sample size sufficiently large to assess the range and depth of what is being offered.

So, what is being offered?

Not much range and very little depth.

Like this:

Hi,

I am following up to confirm you are interested in acquiring the Visitors/Registrants List.

Space Tech Expo
May 23-25, 2022
Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, Long Beach, USA
Registrant Counts: 4,280  
Each record of the list contains: Contact Name, Email Address, Company Name, URL/Website, Phone No, Title/Designation

Seems tempting. But wait, there’s more:

I am following up to confirm if you are interested in acquiring the Visitors/Attendees List.

Space Tech Expo
May 23-25, 2022
Long Beach, California, USA
Registrant Counts: 10,000

Different ads on different days but almost the same script. Different company (allegedly), same speechwriter. Probably the output of one server in someone’s bedroom in a remote corner of Sumatra. Bigger registration count. One highlighted a battalion, the other a regiment. This is a business model with a decidedly dim view of human nature. Bigger numbers mean bigger appeal. Don’t forget that greed thing.

These are inflationary times, after all.

One of those 10,000 might hold the key to my retirement. (Then again, so would the lottery.) Except I have many other competing pitches for Space Tech, with projected quantities of attendees ranging all over the map: 2,000; 3,842; 11,000; 13,445; and 20,099. (Why didn’t they just round that last number up to 20,100? Does 20,099 somehow look more authentic?) The regiment has grown to a brigade, even a full division. Which to choose?

Another Space Tech cold email badgered me 26 times in a one-month span, gradually reducing its price as I remained nonresponsive, from a starting $800 to an ending $400. Endure an extra month of digital harassment, and, by projection, it should fall to the quite-affordable rate of zero.

Another sample from the inbox:

Dear Exhibitor,

I am following up to confirm if you are interested in acquiring the Attendee List.

Houston Expo & Tech Forum
Mar. 24, 2022
Stafford Centre, Stafford, USA
Counts: 2,560

Each Record of the Attendee Includes: Client Name, Business Name, Title, Email Address, Phone Number, Web Address, etc.

Let me know your thoughts, so I can send discount cost and additional information.

And this:

Hope you are doing well!

We are following up to see if you would be interested in the Attendee list of:

Houston Expo & Tech Forum
Date: Mar. 24, 2022
Stafford Centre, Stafford, USA

Are you interested in acquiring the Attendees’ info? (19,300+ Attendees)

Attendees’ information fields: Company Name, Company URL, Contact Names, Title, Phone Number, Email Address

Let me know your thoughts, so I can send the cost and additional information.

We have a Special 50% Discount offer for this month.

We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Six identical pitches, each requesting my thoughts (thank you very much), received on the same day, two each from three different companies. Supposedly. All of them equally wrong in their attendance projections. The 2022 SMTA Houston Expo and Tech Forum, held on one day, Mar. 24, had attendance considerably south of 19,300, a small city. Actual attendance resembled a small neighborhood.

Then there’s this:

Thank you for showing interest in our listings, and below are the details for list acquisition:

Project Details:

Show Name: Automotive Testing Expo Europe 2022
Total Counts: 20,000+ opt-in contacts
Discounted Price: €1,300

  • Data Fields: Contact Name, Title, Phone Number, Fax Number, Physical address, State/City, Company Name, Company URL, and verified email addresses
  • 90%+ accuracy and deliverability on all data fields
  • Data will be provided in an Excel spreadsheet for unlimited list usage
  • All the contacts are permission-based and authorized to receive the third-party information.

Let me know if you need more details, and I await your response. Thank you!

It’s reassuring the process is permission-based (what’s the alternative, coercion-based?) and that it’s 90% accurate (relative to what?). Pity the 10%, banished to Inaccuracy Purgatory.

Samples sampled randomly, and thus enticed, time to bite. So, I took the plunge and replied to a handful. The response was like blood sprinkled on a shark-strewn sea. Except some sharks are more discriminating than others.

For example, this is the five-figure approach:

  • Target List of prospects based on your specifications (zip codes, counties, etc.)
  • A fully managed multi-touch, multichannel lead management program
  • Dedicated Sales Development Representative who will be making the calls
  • Client Success Manager who will be your point of contact
  • Quality Assurance Analyst to qualify every lead submitted meets your criteria
  • Script, email templates, social and website marketing setup, which you will pre-approve prior to the start of the program
  • Access to our web-based lead management platform, where you can monitor and organize, in real time, all the leads that have been qualified for you

I’m sure this is what Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk use every day before breakfast, once the rich zip codes are fully saturated with sales. A bit beyond my pay grade and budget, but nice to know this service is available once I make my first billion.

Back on Earth, here is the more prosaic, poor person’s approach:

It’s a half-price sale!

We are offering a 50% discount.

You can now acquire the info at $400.

Maybe they offer a payment plan.

Or there’s the middle-of-the road, semi-tailor-made approach, filling space with words, revealing little:

What we do for each client is customized, so it really depends on exactly what your objectives are. However, based on what your website says, I think we would probably look at our automated outbound systems to very targeted prospects that would be a good fit for your business, using our process of rapid sales communication testing, combined with your experience, to identify the best messages to communicate to your buyers. Ultimately our objective is to set up a steady flow of new high-quality sales meetings for you each month.

Let me know if that resonates with you, and we could look at trying to find a time for a quick chat.

Automated outbound systems?

Soundwaves generally resonate with me. Businesspeople have conversations. They don’t “chat.”

Here’s the thing: AI-inspired attendee databases are a mass-marketing approach that is unsuitable for small engineering businesses like ours. Our sales pitch is too technical. It can’t be faked. Engineers know a snow job when they hear it. Test parameters, specifications and detailed requirements like power-on testing, JTAG, 4-wire tests and 1149.1/1149.6 rules don’t lend themselves to a spreadsheet with 20,099 potential contacts. There may not have been that many JTAG users in the whole of human history. Nor does an x-ray inspection requirement stipulating resolution, focal length, scan energy, field of view, area of interest and desired pixel/voxel size find clear expression in a shotgun approach to marketing. At our level, one needs to listen to the customer. After listening and digesting the need, you either provide the service or you don’t. This includes supporting nontechnical customers who crave honest guidance on prudent use of their test dollars. A superficial, cold-calling approach to sales risks being more off-putting than enticing. Reputational risk is real. Our clients tend to have specific problems in need of very specific solutions. Test and inspection parameters, and their results, get scrutinized; often they’re second-guessed once the data are known. A high degree of customer contact and handholding is essential. One can’t afford to be dismissive or reluctant to explain (often repeatedly). Antagonize such prospects for any reason, and you’ll never hear from them again. Thank you, database and list folks, for your time, attention (a lot of that, once interest is shown) and education. Not now, but maybe in the future, as your systems get smarter, better defined and more focused. Obviously some small single-digit percentage of your cold calls succeeds; otherwise, I wouldn’t get 206 inquiries in 88 days. It’s just that you and my company aren’t a match. Yet.

7-seeing-figure-1

Do all those spam emails offering huge contact lists that don't exist come from the same group?

Until then, the imagination still wanders and wonders:

Senator McCarthy, your recent speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, would have had a more accurate list of communists in government had you taken advantage of our Commienet services. Why be satisfied with only 205 names? For one low fee, our patented statistical analysis would have given you a list of 5,280 embedded subversives in the State Department and elsewhere in Washington. Consider the advantages of one-stop shopping and make technology your patriotic ally.

Mr. Haldeman, our Paranoiacom custom database will significantly expand your enemies list, virtually and literally, overnight. Why limit your outreach to The Washington Post and certain precincts in Manhattan? Data, like grudges, can be driven anywhere, and all the world’s fair game. Fortunately, for your sake, there’s us. Our firm provides the numbers – every name a prospective enemy – you can simmer over.

For us, refined application of the technology would appear to be in its infancy. Of such developments is progress made, knowing full well that infants’ adherence to a script is, well, unpredictable.

And the folks who offer the declining balance? (See above.) This morning they renewed acquaintances with yet another discount offer: 28 days left for no fee. 

ROBERT BOGUSKI is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.

Robert Boguski

A self-proclaimed “visionary” doesn’t always understand the true meaning of partnership.

In a perfect world, there would be truth in advertising.

It would be jaw-dropping to hear a politician say:

“My statements yesterday regarding the ignorance of voters on the issues of the day were not taken out of context. I meant every word I said, down to the last comma, semicolon and exclamation point, and I stand by them. Many of you don’t even know what a semicolon is, much less how to use it. What’s more, exploiting that gift of voters’ ignorance has propelled my political career and enhanced my electoral viability. Systems are meant for gaming, and I’m seizing the moment my schooling and ambition has set for me. Here in the land where preparation meets opportunity, mine eyes have seen the glory. God Bless America!”

Or to hear a certain classism laid bare with this frank preschool prospectus:

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Robert Boguski

Industry colleagues reunite after two years for in-person lunches with a side of unrestrained conversation.

I meet a certain friend periodically for lunch. I value his company and conversation. Time with him is never dull. He runs an EMS firm, also never dull. His work provides daily material for stories. He tells those stories well. Sometimes I’m privileged to hear them at our lunches. Talk flows with an easy and relaxed familiarity, a kind of relief. Sometimes the food gets cold. No matter.

Our discussions are more urgent now because the pandemic preempted our lunches for two years. We have a lot of pent-up opinions to catalogue and classify. Add to that winter’s natural chill, which enforces a certain introspection. Two years is a long time to accumulate vent-worthy prejudices. Like a trusted confidante, our resumed midday dialogue is most welcome – and good therapy.

These exchanges with my friend take place in a bullshit-free zone. No topic is sacred. No opinion is off-limits. Salesmanship and posturing are implicitly discouraged. Aside from the standard business-related talk, we risk diverting into politics, history, science, philosophy, religion, child-raising, youthful folly, renewed inflation, government, taxes, hiring difficulties – whatever suits us at that moment.


He has many opinions, as you would expect of an EMS CEO. Sometimes I don’t agree with them, but that’s okay because sometimes he doesn’t agree with me. Those sincere, but always respectful, differences are what make our luncheons so refreshing, interesting and educational. And now, long anticipated. There are no hidden agendas. It’s amazing what one can learn when keeping an open mind and not trying to pitch something. Perhaps an unheralded benefit of the pandemic is the stripping away of many pretensions. Life’s too short, as has been made crystal clear these past 24 months.

So many things have changed. We compare notes in our customary judgmental way. Items that may have seemed important only two short years ago no longer seem to matter. So many things have also stayed the same. People can still be obtuse, stupid, unthinking and intolerant. Colleagues can still be greedy, controlling, inconsiderate and intimidating. All this can be accomplished while social distancing and being fully vaccinated and boosted. Some use the pandemic as cover for bad behavior, masking moves they intended to make anyway. Covid simply furnished a readymade pretext.

Our discussions make use of a newly expanded vocabulary. Think of the neologisms we’ve learned: supply chain; spike protein; herd immunity; viral load; mRNA vaccines. We’re all amateur epidemiologists now with an expanded lexicon of excuses when things don’t go to plan: Los Angeles Harbor; Donbas/Ukraine; Xinjiang; reshoring.

We’ve aged at an accelerated rate. Commitments are now hedged. Everything is qualified and tentative. My friend and I note the prevalence of more nuanced language – after normal was redefined.

“If all goes well…”

“If everything arrives on time…”

“If everybody stays healthy…”

“If nobody gets sick…”

“If the flight isn’t cancelled…”

“If the shipment isn’t held up…”

“If the test is negative…”

If.

Many might add, “God willing.”

Most understand the qualifiers. Understanding is often a function of age, although it is risky to generalize. We all know wise millennials and aged fools. The minute you generalize is the instant you are proved wrong, and you have the lesson of oversimplification and snap judgment thrown back in your face. The story of my life. (It keeps me humble.) But the fact remains, in my experience – and that of my lunch companion – most opt to muddle through rather than make a scene of futile protest. Mercifully, neither of us has experienced debates about masking adjudicated with fistfights yet.

What exactly have we learned? Are we smarter and wiser, or warier from the experience? My friend and I wrestle with that one. Lunch does indeed grow cold. The conversation gets hot.

Our discussion turns to communication skills among colleagues and coworkers. One unsung skill that pays dividends is the ability to ascertain and describe a situation, so it is comprehensible to a third party. That seems obvious enough. The surprising truth is many can’t do it, or do it badly, resulting in much time expended, reexplaining the original problem to the intended recipient. We lament the hours lost rectifying misunderstandings that never should have happened, due to a basic lack of clarity in stating the issue.

Breaking down problems into easily digestible bites (or bytes) is a gift, a real advantage for those who have it. Communicating those bites (or bytes) to interested laypersons so they understand and can act on them is a sublime gift. An articulate engineer who can distill a technical challenge to its simplest terms for nontechnical laypersons, such as buyers or managers, who can effortlessly switch between those laypersons and technical peers, is golden. And almost impossible to find.

Equally scarce are those whose radiological skills can clearly describe the content of an x-ray image to an engineer. The recipient doesn’t always know – or admit to knowing – what it is they are looking at.

The same goes elsewhere in companies for HR or accounting problems. Misinformation about 401(k) policies or charts of accounts can drive comprehension off the rails, leading to more time wasted. Once derailed, it’s hard for the recipient to mentally regain proper course. Just as with articulate engineers, plain-speaking HR specialists and literarily astute bookkeepers and accountants are in short supply, and doubtless not floating off the California coast waiting to be unloaded in bulk. Plug-and-play candidates to fill open positions are becoming an endangered species. We both agree we need to devote more time to training our own.

3 seeing figure 1

Communicating problems in easily digestible bites is a gift.

Our discussion turns to the private equity boom. My friend tested positive for private equity, as his firm has been acquired twice in the past four years. No known cure. He hopes the side effects are long-term, and he can cash out at an opportune time and move on to the next challenge, or maybe no challenge at all. (Ain’t capitalism grand?) Whether his company is more competitive as a result is an open question that only time will answer. Whether his employees will remain employed as the debts mount and the spreadsheets are deployed to justify the metrics is another. (Their feelings about the transactions were not available at press time.) One senses a reaction akin to a Russian conscript confronted with the imminent prospect of a Ukrainian winter sightseeing tour: high risk, abundant stress, with plenty of question marks about the future.

My turn. I describe with some exasperation the junior investment bankers and family office acquisition companies that leave friendly voicemails or emails about twice monthly, reminding me of my actuarial status through their queries about our company’s future ownership. So solicitous. A favorite approach comes from ex-military officers. Like this:

I’m a West Point graduate and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot interested in buying a business in the PCBA testing and inspection services industry with $5 million to $20 million in annual sales. The other day, I came across your company and am reaching out to learn more.

I can offer a distinct transition opportunity for you as someone who will appreciate the hard work you've put into the business, take care of the valued members of your team, and build upon what you've established. As a company commander in the Army, I always placed the mission and my people first – and that’s exactly what I’d do with your company.

Hmm. A Blackhawk raid on a delinquent account for past-due receivables would leave an indelible impression. Distinct transition opportunity indeed.

Or this:

I hope December is off to a great start for you and the team at Dataset (sic). I'm reaching out today because I’m an experienced operations leader looking to acquire and grow a (sic) electrical and electronic manufacturing company. If you’ve ever considered handing over the reins and taking some chips off the table (i.e., selling some or all of Dataset), I would love to discuss the opportunity to carry on your legacy.

As a prior naval officer with years of operational leadership experience, I have a commitment to service and am passionate about a company’s mission and employees. I work with a core group of investors experienced in acquiring and growing high-performing companies like Dataset, and I am committed to working with the experienced management team you have put in place.

If you're interested in discussing your options, please let me know some times over the next week that work for a quick call. I understand this can be a sensitive topic, so please know I will maintain strict confidentiality in our discussions.

Lieutenant, now hear this! December was off to a great start until we received your email.

“Operational Leadership Experience” begins with knowing the correct spelling of the target company. It’s D-A-T-E-S-T. Please direct your service and commitment to doing your homework. Speling is @ sensitif topik.

For those who embrace pacifism, or at least a less “regimented” approach, there’s this:

I'm following up on a letter I sent you last week that discussed my serious interest in your business and whether you've considered transitioning ownership of your company. If so, I would very much appreciate the opportunity to further discuss a potential option with you.

As I mentioned in my letter, I founded my company with the intention of acquiring and operating a business in the testing and inspection industry, and I'm particularly interested in your company. If this sounds like an option you're interested in discussing, and you (generally) meet the criteria listed in my previous email and attachment, please contact me using this email address or the phone number below. I've also attached a brochure that further explains my background.

As with many, this pitch reads like a rich kid with family money looking to either fill his idle time or fulfill the thesis requirement for his MBA graduation project.

The pickup line is often some variation of the same theme: I’ve often wanted to get into the testing business and run a testing company on my own... Like they’ve been lying awake at night all their life, harboring this elusive Test Engineering Dream, and now it’s within their third-party-funded grasp.

Interestingly, the prospective acquirers are all male. In all the years of receiving such inquiries, I have yet to receive a single proposal from a female aspirant. Take from that what you will. As my companion does.

We part ways, content in being back together, sharing knowledge and swapping stories about our dysfunctional, yet thriving, industry, and reimagining the New Normal. The more things change....

ROBERT BOGUSKI is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.

Register now for PCB East, the largest electronics technical conference and exhibition on the East Coast. Coming in April to Marlboro, MA.

Robert Boguski

Or how the metaverse will save us, one contorted axiom at a time.

Ambrose Bierce, of sainted memory, is known for a Devil’s Dictionary, a cynic’s primer on human behavior, laid out in Noah Webster style.

Pity he strayed into hostile territory in bandit-infested Northern Mexico in 1913, never to be seen again. Maybe someone lurking in the sagebrush took offense at imagined slights in the Dictionary. People are so thin-skinned.

Pity also that he lived one hundred years too soon. Bierce missed his moment. Obfuscation has exploded, rivaling worthless college degrees (or maybe because of them). A euphemistic pandemic with no known vaccine, for which we need a new dictionary, has infiltrated our lexicon. Straight talk in professional settings is frowned upon, covertly if not overtly. Blunt talk is often memorable and career-threatening. Verbal mush is benign and soon forgotten. As the author of the Bartleby column in the Nov. 20, 2021, edition of The Economist noted, concerning contemporary biz-speak, “People rarely say what they mean, but hope that their meaning is nonetheless clear. Think Britain, but with paycheques. To navigate this kind of workplace, you need a phrasebook.”

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Robert Boguski

Reading minds is outside our capability.

Running a business is hard. There are many moving parts to contend with, both from the customer’s side and that of the enterprise itself. A knife’s edge of difference enables those parts to work symphonically rather than as a cacophony. The cacophony often prevails. Not for nothing is the practice of good management often characterized as more art than science, especially when “good” is a matter of perspective and bias.

We’re dealing with humans. Most simply want to make a living and provide for those closest to them. For that reason, when studying economics in college long ago, I always found incongruous the assertions of those theorists who tried to reduce human behavior and all its attendant unorthodoxies and irrationality to a series of simultaneous equations. Despite the mathematical elegance, something didn’t fit into such a neat solution. People aren’t abstractions, but I was too young and inexperienced to adequately express my misgivings about the incongruity. Plus, I wanted an A.

Time has added depth, and depth comes from time-tested experience. Experience, and hitting many walls, reveals a range of motivations.

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