Hey, You're Human

Everyone makes mistakes. Here ’s how to learn from them.

"I provided the wrong product."

The Problem:

The client needed about 1,000 branded notepads. Ben Adler provided them. Done, right? If only.
As it happened, the medical supply company wanted a different notepad than the item Adler delivered. It was the first time in his 10-year promotional products career that the chief of sales at BEA Promo connected a client with the incorrect item. "They wanted a non-adhesive notepad and the one they got was adhesive," says Adler, noting the size was wrong, too.
Muddled communication and a tighter-than-usual turnaround time contributed to the mistake.

By the time Adler and his buyer had narrowed down the notepad options to two, the sales pro had to leave the country on a trip before he could close the deal. Nonetheless, he continued to correspond through email with the buyer. Knowing that the deadline was looming, he sent the woman an email asking if the adhesive notepad was the item her company desired. She wanted the other pad, but never responded to say so. Amid the confusion of long-distance communication and trying to coordinate various other matters, Adler lost track of the fact that the buyer never got back to him. Eager to meet the client 's in-hands date, he then did something he can 't explain. "For some crazy reason, I submitted the PO without confirmation from the buyer," he says.

The Solution:

After receiving the notepads, the buyer informed Adler they were not the right items. The client decided to keep the pads and use them, but wanted to pay the price he had quoted on the non-adhesive notepad that the company had wanted; that other product was less expensive. Adler knew his margins would be reduced, but he agreed, believing that way he 'd maintain the relationship with the company. "I told her, 'I'm really sorry that this happened. I want you to be happy.' They didn 't get the notepads they wanted. I had to take responsibility for that."

Fortunately, Adler was on good terms with 3M (asi/91240), the supplier of the adhesive notepad that he had provided. He  called the vendor, explained the situation and was able to negotiate a credit that eased the sting of his profit loss. "I walked away from the transaction feeling good about our industry and how everyone – from supplier to distributor to customer – works together," he says.

The Lessons:

Get more organized. Communicate better. Those were two important action items Adler emerged with from the notepad debacle. To help him achieve those aims as he strives to manage a book of business that more than doubled last year, he hired a virtual assistant. "She 'll be communicating with my customers, doing order confirmation and more," he says. Adler also walked away from the slip-up affirmed in his belief that taking responsibility when an order goes awry and providing a solution that 's palatable to a customer is integral to maintaining long-term client relationships. "Mistakes are going to happen," he says. "It 's how you deal with them that counts."