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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Your Business is Burning

Are you inadvertently fanning the flames?


The Roman emperor Nero, who governed from 54 – 68 A.D., is remembered as one of history’s most sadistic and cruel rulers. For example, he not only drained the Roman treasury to fuel his lifestyle of debauchery and excess, but he also had his own wife and mother murdered. To put it mildly, he wasn’t exactly someone you’d invite over for a couple of adult beverages to play Uno with your family.


In July 64 A.D., an enormous fire ravaged Rome for six days, destroying almost 70 percent of the city and leaving half its population homeless. According to an oft-told anecdote, Nero, in his madness, played a fiddle while Rome burned to the ground. It’s an expression that people still use today when describing someone – or even a group of people – who ignore a crisis, although it’s evident that catastrophe looms.


As we approach the midway point of this decade, the majority of promotional products distributors are willingly and knowingly playing that proverbial fiddle while the industry is a conflagration of change.

For generations, promotional products distributors have gone to market in the same way with little thought of the buying experience from the perspective of the client:


  • Drop off or email a catalog.

  • Let the recipient know their logo could be placed on anything in said catalog.

  • Take the order.

  • Cash the check.

  • Repeat (hopefully).


Meanwhile, the world has completely shifted from this draconian sales model and end buyers have easy access to more information and choices than ever before. This means that, for the first time in history, your clients are firmly in the driver’s seat and expect a buying experience that’s as close as frictionless as possible.


Sadly, the way many distributors work does nothing to reduce friction and, in most cases, increases it. Unless there is tangible added value, end users would prefer direct access to merchandise options and avoid the friction – and cost – of the middleman. If you think I’m being a bit of an alarmist, let me remind you that businesses called “travel agencies” once freely roamed the earth. When you wanted to rent a car, book a hotel reservation, or even buy a simple plane ticket, you had to work with a middleman – the travel agent. While some would work hard on your behalf to find the best deal or the most direct route, far too many were simply a layer of cost between the provider and consumer. Because of this, the marketplace started circumventing the middleman to go directly to the source: the hotels, the cruise companies, and the airlines. Of course, there are still some travel agents around, but the only ones that survived are the select few who understood that they had to deliver value beyond the simple act of fostering a desired transaction.


Does this sound familiar to anyone?


Simply put, the days of simply slapping a logo on a product and expecting that simple transaction to build the basis of a long-lasting relationship are over – and have been for a long time. Before you have the next interaction with a prospect or client, you need to ask yourself one thing: Have I adapted the way I sell to the desires of the marketplace?


If you are selling the same way you did just a few years ago – let alone 10 or 20 – the answer to the question is obvious. By not acclimating to the reality that is the current marketplace, your clients will view you as little more than an impediment to getting what they want – an impediment that adds expense and increases friction. Should your audience view you that way, you – and your business – are at critical risk of going the way of the once venerable travel agent.


There is no better time to evaluate, understand, and, more importantly, adjust to what your audience demands from their purchasing partners. Of course, the other option is to keep playing the fiddle of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” while your business burns away into nothing more than charred tatters and smoldering memories.

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