When OR Became AND: A Simple Formula For Growing Your Business - Steve Satterwhite

“No Be-Backs. Ever.”

–Jeff, From Dell

Years ago, I was on a routine sales call with a guy named Jeff from Dell. Jeff was looking for IT service partners to help Dell perform the services their customers needed when they bought Dell server and storage products.

During the sales call, I asked a simple question: “So, Jeff, what keeps you up at night?”

Without a moment of hesitation, he said, “Be-Backs.


Now, I was a technology guy and had been in the industry for some time. But I had never heard of a “Be-Back.” I was curious.

So, I asked him how he was spelling “Be-Back.” He laughed and said “B – E – Space – B – A – C – K – S. Be-Backs.” He said it fast, like it was one word.

I was a little confused.

Was this some sort of technical term that I wasn’t familiar with? Was it some kind of Dell-thing and he was talking in Dell-speak? I had no idea. So I just asked: “Jeff, what’s a Be-Back?”

Simple, he explained.

Dell used IT service partners to architect, design, deploy and manage their enterprise storage systems when their customers buy from them directly. They outsourced the work to IT services partners—IT consulting companies like ours.

He said that when a consultant from one of Dell’s IT services partner went to a customer site to execute the work, and the project failed, Jeff would get a call from the customer or the sales rep or, in most cases, both.

They’d usually be mad and would say something like this: “Jeff, the project is failing and our hardware or software isn’t working. I need you guys to BE-BACK out here tomorrow to fix it.”

Ah! So that was a Be-Back. Now I understood.

A Be-Back was just Jeff’s way of giving a name to any kind of IT project failure—a false start, escalation, revisit, delay or technology failure.

He went on to explain that it was these Be-Backs that were consuming his time, his energy and, even worse, costing the company money in lost profits and lost opportunities.

In fact, he said about 30-40 percent of his day was spent in dealing with these kinds of escalations! In other words, 30-40% of his day was simply dealing with problems that could have been avoided.

So, if we could help eliminate his Be-Backs, then we could have a shot at becoming one of Dell’s IT services partners.

Eager to earn his business, I said, “Yes, we can.”

Not so fast. Jeff said that we needed to understand some things about Dell in order to be able to play. That there were three things he expected us to do and do well.

He said to make it at Dell, we had to do these three things—all three of them.

First, no Be-Backs. Ever. We had to execute flawlessly. That is, we could never have an escalation, a false start, a revisit or project failure. His message was crystal clear, if not a bit intimidating: “If you ever make a mistake,” he told me, “you would most likely be gone. That’s just the way it is.”

“OK,” I said. I wondered what was next.

Second, since they were Dell, the master of supply chain management (READ: how to squeeze every last drop of cost out of their vendors), they expected us to be a low-cost provider. In fact, over time, if we wanted to grow the business, we would need to become THE low-cost provider.

To be clear, he told me that Dell had a sophisticated reverse auction bidding system. They used it to play partners against each other to compete for business and drive costs out of their IT service suppliers.

To win at Dell, we had to win the reverse auction—in other words, we had to be the lowest-cost provider.

And finally, Jeff said, that the “Customer Experience” was crucial. He said that every one of Dell’s customers that we performed work for would be called by an outside firm to measure their Customer Experience on the work we did.

He made it very clear that we had to score “Very Satisfied” on the customer surveys or, if we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be around very long.

When I asked him what a Very Satisfied customer was, he said for them, it was a “7” on a scale of 1-7 with 7 being Very Satisfied and 1 being Very Dissatisfied. And anything less than a 7 put us at risk.


On the drive home that day, I thought about our conversation over and over. I was excited about the opportunity and the possibilities that lay ahead. Yet I was also more than a little unsure about how well we would be able to execute this contract.

But I clearly understood the task before us. We simply had to do three things:

  1. Never make a mistake AND
  2. Be THE lowest cost provider AND
  3. Achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction.

Wait a minute. What happened to OR?

Didn’t I just read not too long ago in The Discipline of Market Leaders that great companies pick one strategy and one strategy only? That we could either be high quality OR low-cost OR customer- service oriented, but not all three.

Now I have a guy who’s telling me that it’s not one of the three. It’s all three.

Well, it turns out, Jeff was right. That high quality (No Be-Backs), low costs, and outstanding customer service are all inextricably linked together.

It makes sense that if you can deliver better quality, customers are happier, costs go down, and profits go up. Everyone gets that.

A simple formula? Yes. Easy to execute? No, it’s not.

From my experience, AND is much harder to execute than OR.

The good news is that it can be done. In my first book, Above the Line: How the Golden Rule Rules the Bottom Line, you can learn more about how our team created a culture and system to not only win at Del, but how we built a business that made it easier to drive revenue, profits, and customer service.

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