Listen to what I'm saying!

Don't assume you're communicating with customers when you're doing all the talking.

Jul 1st, 2004

Don't assume you're communicating with customers when you're doing all the talking.

by Andy Wilson

Last month, our regional sales representative Judy Leger arranged several company meetings in western New York. Designed to generate original material for future issues of Vision Systems Design, the trip included visits to companies such as Imaging Solutions Group (Fairport;, Navitar (Rochester;, Spectra-Physics (Liverpool;, Thales Optem (Fairport;, Volpi Manufacturing (Auburn;, and Zynergy Solutions (Rochester;

The idea was simple. Many of these companies offer OEM products to systems integrators and large-volume end users. They would have the contacts and could hopefully generate photographs and drawings necessary to make my job easier. Of course, I jumped at the idea. What better way to find systems-design articles than to visit companies that supplied shutters, lenses, optics, and cameras?

Unfortunately, the first company we visited confirmed my suspicions—my premonitions—of the troubles to come. The company was not in a position to discuss their customers. They had signed nondisclosure agreements and had promised they would not speak to the press.

Then it was on to our next appointment at Vincent Associates (Rochester; Another OEM supplier to the imaging and machine vision industry, the company makes a range of shutters used in applications such as photolithography, where UV exposure must be controlled for specific, accurate, and repeatable periods. When used with full-frame imagers from companies such as Kodak (Rochester, NY, USA;, another company we visited, these shutters allow very-high-resolution images to be captured.

I insisted on a visit to the company's R&D lab. Escorted by Stephen Pasquarella, one of the product designers, I found that the company was qualifying a shutter for a large-volume biomedical company that would incorporate the device into its products. I was enthralled.

Immediately I started on my usual interrogation about the product—who, what, why, how does it work, what does it do. After a while, Pasquarella informed me that this was his customer's product, and he didn't know all the details. Being a stubborn journalist, I refused to believe this. I kept asking questions.

But I wasn't asking questions that received answers. I was talking! This, as you can imagine, is a fatal mistake for a journalist. Pasquarella deserves an apology. After being invited to his company, I wasn't only rude, I may have appeared downright condescending—a trait of which I have been accused before (see Vision Systems Design, April 2004, p. 6).

As you can imagine, this was not going well at all. After leaving Vincent Associates, I was informed by Ms. Leger that if ever this were to happen again, she would string me up by the neck. Although these were not her exact words (she was more graphic), I reflected on my behavior. And I have sent Pasquarella a letter of apology. He deserves one. I made a mistake.

My big mistake

My mistake, however, was not my level of questioning or my enthusiastic behavior (well maybe just a bit). Rather, it was assuming that Vincent Associates knew the purpose of my productVision Systems Design, what I wanted to accomplish through promoting its products in a systems-design perspective, and how I would achieve these goals.

My assumption and fatal mistake were ones that many component suppliers also make. One can never assume that another person understands exactly what you offer, its benefits, or advantages unless you first explain them.

And, when in doubt, listen rather than talk. I guess that's why engineers and ex-engineering journalists are kept in back rooms, safe from public interaction, with eyes taped to computer monitors.

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