How to Overcome Adversity: 'I Sold a Discontinued Item!'

The Issue: The successful team at Cotton King (asi/169201) has a knack for providing top-notch promotional solutions to an array of clients, including schools. So when a long-standing buyer for a private Christian school needed help promoting a particular booster event, Owner Weston Cotton was confident that he could come through. A particular hat he discussed as a possible solution struck a chord with the buyer, and the client decided to order hundreds of them. Seemed easy enough, but then there was the snag: the hat had unexpectedly been discontinued. The deadline was imminent. What could be done?

The Solution: Fortunately, Cotton had taken the time to work consultatively with the client during the initial discussions. He thoroughly understood the objective of the promotion, the buyer’s tastes and what would appeal to the intended end-users, which were students. He used this valuable knowledge to suggest on-budget alternative options during an open and honest discussion with the client. “It was important to give them options and talk with them about different ways we could help so as to make sure they’d definitely get something they were happy with,” he says. Keenly aware of the deadline too, his suggestions centered on items that could be decorated and delivered within the super-tight timeframe. These included T-shirts,  totes and other products. “Because we got to know their real need, we understood it wasn’t that they were attached to getting a hat per se,” says Cotton. “They basically needed something appealing they could put their logo on to promote their event.” When it came time to make a selection, the client ordered 450 T-shirts. “They were happy with the results,” says Cotton.

The Lesson: Naturally, one takeaway that can be culled from his story is that it’s pivotal to ensure products have not been discontinued. But another critical lesson is that when something goes awry, rather than try to impose a fix you think might appease clients, it’s important to communicate -- to discover exactly what they require to feel the situation has been adequately rectified. “Everyone has a slip up occasionally,” says Cotton. “The key in a tough spot like that is to find out what will make things right in the customer’s eyes. You have to be creative and deliver solutions based on their need. That’s what keeps the relationship going.”