Hey, You're Human

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

“We could have gone under.”

The Problem:

Josh Frey’s business hung in the balance.

The founder of On Sale Promos, a Proforma affiliate, was in serious threat of being stuck with a $600,000 bill for an order. Unhappy with compromised high-end products, the client was refusing to accept the order. “I was worried we were going to go out of business,” says Frey.

The deal had started so promisingly. Through careful courting and relationship-building, Frey and his team earned the opportunity to custom-design and manufacture three exclusive products for a major beer brand. The products were a smoker grill, a keg-shaped refrigerator and a wooden table with a built-in area for storing ice and beer. To produce the items cost-effectively, Frey turned to a Chinese factory.

Things did not go swimmingly.

After working through various snags with the overseas manufacturer, On Sale Promos felt it was on track to deliver the big order. Fortunately, the products arrived stateside in time. Unfortunately, there were a number of problems. The tables had been packed in the rain and then stored on a shipping container for a considerable period, Frey says. As a result, they had mold issues. Parts of some of the grills – also packaged poorly – were bent. And if that wasn’t enough, the doors on certain fridges were not working. The client wasn’t keen to pay for the products. “If this goes to pot,” says Frey, “everyone loses.”

The Solution:

Shaken but far from defeated, Frey flew into action. His first step was to pledge to come through for the beer brand. “We’d spent significant time developing a relationship with the client,” says Frey, also an industry sales coach known as the Swag Coach. “That was important, because we had to draw on that goodwill to assure them we could rectify the problems.”

Of course, On Sale Promos next had to engineer those solutions. Complicating matters was the fact that Frey had to have the fixes completed in about two weeks to make the client’s date for shipping the products.

To meet the deadline, Frey developed a sound strategy that centered on enlisting help from his Proforma network and partners that work directly with the overseas factory to reduce the complicated machinations to a swift conclusion. The strategy worked. A crackerjack mold remediation company was found to tend to the tables. Parts were obtained for the damaged smokers and defective fridges; stateside companies did the handiwork. In the end, the client was pleased and accepted the products.  “We didn’t make any money, but we broke even,” says Frey. “Most importantly, we got the client the correct products on time.”

The Lessons:

While nerve-wracking, the near- business-busting experience taught and reinforced a bevy of valuable lessons, such as the need to have a systematic approach to managing orders, especially ones involving foreign factories. “I learned so much about working with China,” says Frey. “We were able to develop specific parameters and key in on specific people to work with when doing something overseas.”

Additionally, the scenario reinforced that sales pros must take responsibility when fate derails a project. “You can’t pass the problem on to the client or point a finger at the factory. You were trusted to provide something and you have to deliver a solution,” says Frey, noting clear communication with clients is essential in times of crisis. So is relationship-building.

“When you have a relationship, and the you-know-what hits the fan, the buyer is much more likely to trust that you can fix the problem,” says Frey. “The issue becomes a bump in the road, not the loss of a client.”

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

Q: How should reps react when defective products are delivered to the client?


“It’s about being quick and attentive. We get back to the unhappy customer right away to let them know we will look into it. We also ask for more details so we can go to the supplier. Then, we contact the supplier to dig into the issue. If we react quickly, the customer is much more understanding and open to solutions.”– Kirby Hasseman, Owner, Hasseman Marketing & Communications (asi/221824)

“Ask yourself how you handled a similar situation in the past and what the end result was. Normally you only have to go through this a few times to realize that it’s always better to stay cool, calm and positive.”– Mark J. Resnick, Vice President of Sales/Promotional Branding, The Artcraft Company (asi/125023)

“The first and most important thing to do is to help find a solution. The worst thing a rep can do is try to point the finger at someone. Apologize for the mistake, then make it right by finding a solution that is acceptable to the client.”– Tej Shah, Vice President of Marketing/E-Commerce, Overture Premiums & Promotions (asi/288473)

“The salesperson should show calm, empathy and confidence. First, apologize that the client is disappointed. Then, calmly let the client know you are right on it and will get back to them promptly. We have all seen examples where a customer may have received just what they ordered, and for this reason, it is important to acknowledge their concern, but not necessarily take responsibility until all facts are gathered. Resolve the issue swiftly and ask the client if they are happy with the result.”– Dale Limes, Senior Vice President of Sales, HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000)

“It’s how you handle the adverse situations that will separate you from the order takers. Never point your finger or shift the blame. They need us to solve the problem. Don’t panic. Keep a cool head. Ask the client what will make them satisfied; we often find that the client is more reasonable than one might expect and that we don’t have to offer concessions. Never lie. If you made a mistake, own up to it and offer a solution. Also, apologize sincerely – but do it once. Constantly apologizing reinforces that a mistake was made.”– Ed Levy, President/Founder, EdVenture Promotions (asi/186055)