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A Supplier Loses It...and a Business Opportunity As Well!

We all have our breaking points in our personal and business lives. For some of us, it’s easy to get frustrated and lose our cool. I can get mad occasionally. Through the years though, I have become more controlled in my response. A supplier recently did get mad at me, and I was not controlled in responding. The experience got me thinking about different approaches to handling business situations.

I lost my cool over a flurry of non-stop pre-show e-blasts that were driving me nuts. I’m not against e-blasts that are so common, and often valuable in our industry. What does make me crazy is sending e-mails that offer nothing of value. Before a trade show hundreds of supplier companies with whom I have no relationship invited me to “Visit them in Booth 1234”. The barrage of these e-mails drove me over the edge.

These invitations were not beneficial. I didn’t know these suppliers, and there was no compelling information in the email for me to “visit them." In a moment of frustration, I put this note in the subject line in a couple of these useless-to-me e-mails: ALL SUPPLIERS SENDING SPAM E-BLASTS ARE GETTING A SPAM REPORT.

Actually, I did nothing. I was just frustrated, and it had to come out somewhere. But this response was harsh and out of character for me. I had hit a breaking point and lost it. At the time, I didn’t understand that I had not opted out of these pre-show mailings when I registered. By failing to do so had implicitly implied I was willing to accept these emails. Suppliers who send such e-mails have permission to send them unless I requested otherwise. My reaction to their business strategy to drive traffic to their booth was wrong.

One of the two suppliers I sent my frustrated subject line to replied to me with a very harsh e-mail. It seems they lost it. Their response was not thought through in a way that would have been more professional. Apparently, they had received many spam reports and the e-mail program they use suspended their account. This company rightfully so, assumed I was part of why they were suspended.'

In my response to them, I apologized for my harsh comment and told them I had nothing to do with their suspension. My terse subject line was born of frustration, and the threat was empty. I did not submit a spam report. Stating the obvious, I noted that if they received enough spam reports to be suspended, clearly quite a few people were not happy about the e-blasts they sent out. I wasn't happy either, but I didn’t make a report.

Spam reports negatively affected their business, and I understand how frustrating that is, but responding in the way they did didn’t help the situation. Rather than contact me directly and have a respectful dialog, this company chose to attack. Their email to me made assumptions about my character and in turn, damaged the opportunity to do business with me in the future. Even if I did represent one spam report…their problem was much larger than that.

We could have had a dialog where we both acknowledged where we failed in the process and come away having both learned and benefited from the experience. Instead, we will most likely never work together.

How we react to business situations is reflective of our character and approach to how we choose to do business. I made a mistake that in the past would put me over the edge. It was a business error that is easy to make and simple to catch…but that didn’t happen. On a large order for shirts, I entered size Large instead of X-Large. As a seasoned pro, I always send the work order to the client with the instructions to check the order and make sure it’s correct prior to approving it. In this case, my client didn’t catch the error and wrong size shirts were decorated. It was a very costly mistake.

What is worth noting is how each side responded. I was very calm. I hate taking a loss, but thankfully, business is pretty good, and I can absorb it, as painful as it is.

I responded with something like: To avoid mistakes like this, we always include our usual text with the work order: Please check this work order over, make sure it’s correct, sign and fax or e-mail back with your approval so we can proceed with production.

When we receive a signed, approved work order, we assume that the client has looked at the order and that what they approved is correct. Mistakes do happen as we see here, which is why we have this double check process in place.

Nevertheless, we will take care of this. If you can use the large shirts at a reduced cost, that would be greatly appreciated.

I wasn’t sure how this would turn out but was prepared to eat the whole mistake. Normally in these situations, an adjustment can be made for the wrong size shirts to offset the loss. We had an e-mail conversation, and in the process, I kept a calm, professional demeanor despite my client not wanting to take any responsibility for her part in approving the order. Ultimately, we came to a reasonable resolution we were both comfortable with and will continue to do business together in the future.

In business, when things go wrong, it can be an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. That’s what happened with my shirt mishap. The client appreciated the way I handled the situation, and our relationship has grown. The supplier who reacted irrationally…will probably never get any business from me.

How we communicate with the marketplace is key to our success. Suppliers and Distributors should consider conveying information that has some value whether it’s via e-mail or social media. Suppliers who send the "Visit Us in Booth 1234" type pre-show e-mails that people may opt out from, lose the opportunity to send more meaningful communications in the future.

Real world experiences make up much of what I comment on…and we all can learn from what happens in our daily lives. While I have been in the promotional marketing industry for many years, I keep on learning!

© 2014 Jeff Solomon, MAS

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