Hey, You're Human

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

“We needed overnight delivery. We got three-day.”


The Problem: The event date was closer than a straight-razor shave. But that didn’t deter Dean Schwartz. The president of SOBO Concepts (asi/329592) and his team decided to take on the challenge of fulfilling a high-end real estate broker’s last-minute request for 500 logoed lip balms and 500 shoe shine kits. The broker needed the items to distribute at a Miami-area horse show that was imminent. “It was an extreme rush job,” says Schwartz. “We had to overnight everything to get it there on time.” 

If only that would have happened.

Despite what Schwartz says was clear instructions to overnight the order, the vendor shipped by three-day ground delivery. With the aid of a tracking number, SOBO discovered the mistake the day before the horse show. “At that point,” says Schwartz, “there was nothing we could do to expedite.”

The Solution: Determined not to fail the client, Schwartz and his team immediately began seeking a speedy solution. Rather than waste time castigating the supplier, SOBO took a productive approach and sought the vendor’s help. As luck would have it, the supplier had a Miami-area warehouse stocked with product. From there, SOBO sourced alternative items – ear buds and hand sanitizer – that met with the client’s approval. The supplier raced into action to get 500 of each of the selected items out the door. The shipment of buds and hand sanitizer arrived on time for the broker’s nearby event. “We provided it at our expense,” says Schwartz. “The client was very appreciative.”

The Lessons: Reflecting on the shipping debacle, Schwartz says the scenario emphasizes the importance of setting client expectations and being realistic about what can and cannot be done. “We all have clients who wait until the last minute and I’m always the guy who says, ‘Yes, we’ll make it happen!’” says Schwartz. “Most of the time everything works out. But there’s always a risk involved and there are times like this when things happen that put you in a tough situation. I’m learning that sometimes, it can be smarter to walk away if there’s too much of a risk. It’s something you have to judge on a case by case basis.”

Additionally, the near-miss order affirmed Schwartz’s commitment to customer service. Yes, SOBO lost money on the deal. But, says Schwartz, the one-time thwack to the bottom line pales in comparison to disappointing a client and having her potentially turn to competitors. “It’s our culture: We believe in doing whatever we can to make a client happy,” says Schwartz. “Once we tell a client we can do something, we do everything we can to come through. There’s usually always a way to resolve a situation. You just have to find it.”

Advisory Board Weighs In

Are there times when it is wise for reps to tell clients ‘no’?

“It is never appropriate to tell a customer ‘no’ unless you are asked to do something illegal or unethical. In all other circumstances, it is better to replace ‘no’ with, ‘I would be doing you a disservice if I do that and here is why.’ Then follow that response with a well-thought-out and valid reason why you can’t or shouldn’t do what they are asking.”Dale Limes, Senior Vice of President Sales, HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000)


“We recently dealt with a client that needed 50,000 custom-made key tags. It just so happened to be in the middle of the Chinese New Year. This is one of our top clients, and we tried to accommodate their need. But after more than a week of backend work, we had to tell them we would not be able to accept their order because we could not guarantee on-time delivery due to the New Year. It was very hard to say those words, but I would rather have the uncertainty of opening the door to competition because I was up front than to open the door to competition because of failure. Those are much different issues, and when anyone else they call tells them the same thing, it solidifies that they can trust us.” – Matthew Watkins, CEO, (asi/246818)


“As sales professionals, we want to be as accommodating as possible. We want to provide awesome service. But there are times when customer requests are not possible. ‘Can you do these in a week?’ No. ‘Can you do these for less than cost?’ No. ‘Can you do free artwork? Setups? Tape charges?’ No. We need to train our clients to value what we bring to the transaction. If not, we will all continue to fight over nickels.” – Kirby Hasseman, Owner, Hasseman Marketing & Communications (asi/221824)


“One of the worst things that a sales rep can do is over-promise and under-deliver. If the sales rep will not be able to meet some aspect of the client’s requirements (timeline, price, imprint requirements, etc.), it’s better to say ‘no’ up-front, rather than disappoint the client in the future.”– Tej Shah, VP of Marketing & E-Commerce, Overture Premiums & Promotions (asi/288473)


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“There are definitely instances where we say ‘no.’ They include: When the production timing is dependent upon zero mistakes, including shipping and waiver of proof; when we are confident the product the client is choosing is completely wrong for the goal they are looking to achieve; and when the price threshold is too low to deliver a quality product.” – Ed Levy, President/Founder, EdVenture Promotions (asi/186055)


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.