Six Ways to Sour a Customer Relationship

Great advice from an experienced licensed product buyer.

One of my best and oldest friends is a promotional-products distributor who has been working in the licensed-sportswear market for the past 20-odd years. He’s been on both sides of the channel, first as a buyer with a major retailer and then as a distributor specializing in pro and collegiate sports merchandise, so he has a nice 360º perspective on what works and what doesn’t in the promotional-products business. He also has an entertaining ability, during the last few minutes of any sporting event where the fortunes of a team and thus the salability of merchandise he has already ordered are on the line, to be animated and apoplectic simultaneously. (Try it sometime—it’s not an easy combination.)

Since I know he works with a lot of printers and decorators, I thought he’d have some useful advice for readers who’d like to expand their business in this area. And because he isn’t one to beat around the bush when communicating his dissatisfaction about…well, pretty much anything, I decided to turn the question around. I asked him what five things about working with decorators make him berserk. (Naturally, five responses weren’t enough space for him to vent.) He offers some great nuggets of wisdom about managing customer relationships no matter what type of printing you do:

1. “Salesmen who don’t know their line. Too many of them have the philosophy of ‘Get the order and then we’ll figure it out later.’ The sales team needs to know their product at every stage—materials used, country of origin, timeline and how certain times of the year or Chinese New Year’s may affect it, pricing, packaging, and how the item is trending.”

2. “Salesmen who don’t listen. Instead of trying to sell me what you have in mind, listen to what I am asking you for. Often, a subtle change makes all the difference.”

3. “Lack of samples. I don’t need to see a sample in the early stages of the sales process, but I must see one before a PO is cut.”

4. “Lack of creativity. Too many vendors hit a wall, say they’re sorry, and cancel the order. Most of the time there are other options—adjusting the price, changing the factory, altering the actual item, etc.—if we just talk them through.”

5. “Lack of communication. If there is a glitch, let me know immediately. It makes my job easier. The more time I know before the order is due, the more options I have. No one likes last-minute surprises.”

6. “Remembering that every mistake a vendor makes reflects on the distributor, not them. When a vendor has an issue I can’t fix, I have to go to my customer and take the hit. My customer couldn’t care less that it was not my fault. If a vendor works on the topics above, most issues can be avoided.”

Thanks, Rob--the next dinner is on me.

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