Tuesday, September 27, 2005


The V-Man seeketh a punchbowl with which to dish up the infamous Chatham Artillery Punch at the Drunken Blogger Bacchanalia Southeast Writers’ Conference in Helen this weekend.

I am not the person you wanna be asking to bring a punchbowl, given my prior Unsavory Associations with said device.

Pernicious memes aside, I have used the Turd in a Punchbowl metaphor in the context of business, to disarming and devastating effect. For it is a good and worthy metaphor.

Once upon a time, I was calling on a customer in the Southeastern U.S., a division of a huge multinational corporation that was a prodigious purchaser of our polyethylene pellets. Our excellent record as a supplier had earned us, over a period of several years, a strong majority position in their business.

As often happens when one is a Strong Majority Supplier, competitors will come along and try to knock you off your lofty perch. Such was the case when, out of the blue, another supplier came along and offered similar products at a substantially lower price. In cases such as this, we have the option of meeting the competitive offer or, alternatively, of releasing our customer from their contractual obligations so as to take advantage of the competitive offer. Of course, we chose to meet the offer - we did not want to give up any of our business! - but we had a question to answer: How could a competitor offer such a low price? Egg on our face, you know.

I met with the customer’s Purchasing Manager - an attractive young redheaded lady - and explained the situation, using a Pungent Analogy. She understood and accepted my explanation.

And that explanation must have made a deep impression on her, because shortly thereafter, both I and my Regional Sales Manager were summoned to a meeting with our customer’s Senior Management. They, too, wanted to understand how a competitor could undercut our price so substantially. Had our pricing not been competitive in view of market conditions? Had we been screwing them?

We sat in the customer’s Board Room, my Regional Sales Manager and I, along with all of the customer’s Grand Panjandrums. Their redheaded Purchasing Manager started things off on the right foot, to wit: “Elisson, suppose you tell our Management Team about your Turd in the Punchbowl Theory of Marketing.”

All eyes turned to me.

Quoth I, “It’s simple. You ask, ‘How could your competitor undercut your price so substantially? Does it mean you have been overcharging us?’

“And I answer, ‘Not at all. When you’re not at the party drinking the punch, it doesn’t hurt you if you put a turd in the punchbowl. Our competitor has merely lobbed a turd into the punchbowl.’

“This is a no-lose scenario for our competitor. If we decline to meet their price, we lose the business, and they supply you, albeit at a low price - for now. If we meet their price, our margin is reduced, and they are no worse off than they were, since they do not supply you at present.

“Our pricing has been fair and competitive. Their offer is well below market level - but it has to be, in order to get your attention. That’s the Turd in the Punchbowl Theory of Marketing...any questions?”

The customer’s CEO was skeptical at first, but ultimately he had to acknowledge the truth behind my Pungent Business Analogy. And, in the end, we not only retained our business, we grew our position.

This weekend in Helen, I will be sore tempted to float a Baby Ruth in that big bowl of Chatham Artillery Punch. I will not do it, for respect of V-Man’s sacred concoction...and because I plan to be at the party, drinking the punch.

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