While my primary business these days is publishing FreePromoTips.com, I've been in the custom imprinted products business for over 25 years. My client base represents a nice steady flow of product business which means I still have a good understanding of what's happening our industry.
Recently, I've been blessed with a flurry of rather significant business opportunities, with quantities and dollar volumes that I haven't seen in my long history. In the course of working on these projects, some rude awakening of how the distributor/supplier relationship works, or occasionally doesn't work, have me scratching my head and asking, "...Really?"
As part of my mental health therapy I'm going to share a few ...Really? moments. No suppliers will be harmed during this Rant.
For one project, I needed a same-day quote for 5,000 pieces on a single item. There were not a large number of companies to choose from for this specialty product. I called one supplier that appeared to manufacture the product and was told normally a quote could take two days, but they would put it on a rush and I "should" have it that day. Two days to prepare a price on one item that they MAKE ...Really? A $15,000.00 NET sell on order isn't worth some attention ...Really?
I followed up mid-afternoon and was told I would have the quote at the end of the day. With the time difference, my last call only got me voice mail, as they had closed already. No quote. Thankfully in this case, a social media connection thru the industry made another supplier suggestion and that supplier was awesome!
In another project I needed stock sports artwork on the item. The quote from the supplier read: "Stock imprint designs are available at an additional cost." But the cost wasn't stated. Wouldn't it be helpful to note what the cost for the stock artwork is, especially since we discussed it ...Really?
My other pet peeve is general questions. I understand the value of having dedicated CSRs to service a territory, but I cringe when I get the "where are you calling from?" question. My experiences have shown that in these cases, I almost always have to leave a voice mail. When someone needs to ask a general question about a product, why do we need to work with someone who only handles a specific territory? Often I just need a quick answer to a simple question.
This rant could get very long, but I will close with one more. On another item, I asked the vendor if they had a picture of the product that I could show my client. The answer was no, but they could send a sample. What... they didn't have product images available? Couldn't they take a picture of the item with a camera phone someone in the office must have ...Really?
Make no mistake, I am very grateful for the business opportunities that have come my way, and I am thankful for the many fabulous suppliers who are going above and beyond their jobs to help me close a sale. On the other hand, how some companies function makes me ponder ...Really?
At times it seems as if the CSR is not equipped to do their job. Some apparently don't even care about helping. I wonder if the business owner knows that they lost a $15,000 order because the CSR was not responsive and didn't follow through. Do they realize that one person is the face of their entire company and how a distributor customer may perceive them? Do they want to know if they have a weak link in the chain or bad process in place that is holding up potential business?
I suspect the answer is no. It takes too much effort on the part of a distributor to tell them. And whom do you even reach out to? How do you know whom to contact? Do distributors fail by not making the effort to offer constructive criticism? Do suppliers fail by not making feedback easier to give? Is there such a thing as a "suggestion box" with anyone?
While this Rant addresses things that can go wrong with suppliers, distributors can also be part of the problem. As I share my frustration in situations I've experienced, I realize I can't fix some things. But what can I do to help make the supplier's job easier?
Am I communicating all the details clearly? What I need, when I need it, what the time deadline is? Did I ask for all the prices and charges to be clearly stated? Did I address the time difference in our locations? Was I clear on how and where to best contact me? Even if I think I have answered all these questions, maybe I didn't from the CSR's perspective. Should my last question be "Have I given you all the information you need to help me out?"
When working with a supplier, am I taking the time to double check all the information? Have I forgotten a small detail that will slow things down by requiring a phone call or email to me? When sending email, are my subject lines clear as to the content? Am I including order numbers, previous discussions, contact details and time frames? If distributors and suppliers concentrated a bit more on effective communication, business transactions would go much smoother. We can ALL improve on such simple things.
In a future Rant, we will follow up on this topic from a supplier's perspective.
On a different and much more fun topic, we have finalized the date for our 2nd Annual Sail to Success Cruise to the Bahamas. We depart Monday, September 9 and return Friday morning, September 13. Our 2012 cruise was awesome and we already have people booked on this years cruise. For more information and a short video of what you missed in 2012 visit our Sail to Success page.
Jeff Solomon, MAS, MASI is affiliated with a large distributor company. The FreePromoTips.com website and e-newsletters he publishes are packed with beneficial information and exclusive FREE offers from a few forward-thinking supplier companies. Don't miss out on what's happening! Opt in to receive their e-newsletters! LIKE their page on Facebook and follow them on twitter. Jeff can also be found on Linkedin.