Hey, You're Human

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

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

“My mugs were marred – twice!”

The Problem: Sometimes, it seems like fate is conspiring against you, doing its best to prevent an order from coming to fruition. With 20 years in promotional product sales, Kathy Whitburn knows the feeling. Still, the strategic marketing consultant for American Solutions For Business (asi/120075) believes there is always a solution – that business relationships can be maintained even in the face of frustrating challenges.

A strife-fraught order for an engineering firm is proof that Whitburn is correct. The president of the company wanted several hundred travel mugs to distribute at an event where he was a featured speaker. Whitburn rushed into action to deliver the desired mugs, but when they arrived, the screen-printed imprints were marred. “We had to find out fast what went wrong and how to fix it,” she says.

The Solution: While annoyed, the client trusted Whitburn when she gave assurances that she could find a speedy solution. A discussion with the vendor revealed that the problem came down to packaging. After being imprinted, the mugs were promptly boxed for shipping. But once in the boxes, the mugs rubbed against each other, which resulted in the imprints being ruined, says Whitburn.

The vendor proposed putting plastic sleeves around the mugs to protect them – a service the supplier had failed to offer initially. Whitburn agreed, but that wasn’t the end of the problems. “Customer service said they would sleeve them, but the message didn’t make it to production,” she says. Unfortunately, the supplier shipped the mugs without the sleeves. Once again, the imprints were defaced. The president of the company was extremely upset.

Knowing her reputation was on the line, Whitburn assured the client that the third time would be the charm. Fortunately, it was. She ensured that the supplier sleeved the mugs properly for shipping and saw to it that the order was overnighted so that the engineering firm had the mugs in time for the event. What’s more, she arranged it so that the client was not charged for the sleeve protection. Furthermore, she worked it out with the supplier so that her client was only charged for ground-shipping, not the much costlier overnight. “Our timing was good – we made the date,” says Whitburn. “In the end, the client was very happy.”

The Lessons: The mug fiasco emphasizes how important it is for sales pros to understand the products they are selling. It’s essential to recognize, for instance, that certain products may have specific packaging requirements. To head off potential issues, ask suppliers for advice before production begins. “We have to educate our clients why it’s worth it to pay a little extra to have, say, special packaging,” says Whitburn. Additionally, when an order goes awry, “you have to take accountability. You also can’t throw your supplier partners under the bus. You have to tell the client that you’ll get to the bottom of it and then deliver,” Whitburn says.

Because Whitburn made good, the engineering firm continued working with her. Subsequent orders have gone well, thanks to her consultative service. The company remains loyal. “They’re a really great client,” she says.

When we fall short, the important part is to learn where we went wrong and do better next time. That’s why Advantages is asking you to share your tales of trying sales scenarios and the lessons they taught you. Contact writer Christopher Ruvo with your story.

Advisory Board Weighs In

How can sales reps develop greater product knowledge?

“Our best resource would be our manufacturer reps. Our preferred partners come to see us on a regular basis. They offer a wealth of knowledge about their products, possible issues, enhancements and upcoming trends in the industry. They get a better understanding of our client needs and are always providing product suggestions as a result.” – Danette Gossett, Owner, Gossett Marketing (asi/212200)

“Spend time with a supplier’s regional rep. Prioritize the product categories you want to learn about the most. Contact your company’s preferred supplier reps for those product areas and ask to have a meeting. The most important step is to ‘organize’ the knowledge you attain. For example, keep an electronic folder and/or binder of your favorite products in each product category.” – Dale Limes, Senior Vice of President Sales, HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000)

“Read a quality industry magazine. If you are pressed for time, reading one monthly publication isn’t asking much at all. I also recommend that reps attend a major national show at least every other year, if not every year.  Worth every penny, especially if you maximize the educational offerings.” – Mark J. Resnick, Vice President of Sales/Promotional Branding, The Artcraft Company (asi/125023)

“One of the best ways to stay up to date on the latest products and trends is to attend industry events, such as quality trade shows. This gives you a great opportunity to meet in person with multiple suppliers in one location and familiarize yourself with their products, differentiators and trends in the market. In addition, the education tracks provide reps with a wealth of knowledge about the business.” – Kathleen Booth, Owner/CEO, Quintain Marketing (asi/303131)

“The most important thing I do with all my employees is sending them to Sharprint, a contract apparel decoration firm, for a day. They will see from start to finish how the entire decoration process works, and although this supplier is for apparel only, the principles apply to any item that is decorated.” –Ed Levy, President/Founder, Edventure Promotions (asi/186055)