It’s the most difficult of jobs. You have all the responsibility for the order you’re about to write with your client, and none of the authority to ensure its successful outcome. Should something go wrong, it’s your reputation on the line, and the opportunity to feed your family hinges in the balance.
If you’ve been in this business 5 minutes or 15 years, you’re undoubtedly headed for your next potential failure, and the origin of your next problem has no rhyme or reason. Big or small, Fortune 100 or mom & pop, one of your orders with a part of your supply chain is headed for the rocks, and it’s what happens in those moments when it does that will often determine how (and if) you’ll survive to get another order from that client.
As the title might suggest, I have no problem with pushing the envelope when it comes to not accepting anything other than an on-time and perfect order. What I DO have a problem with, however, is the method many of our industry practitioners use in achieving that outcome.
I once wrote an order for 160,000 t-shirts. That’s right, ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY THOUSAND. I used an industry supplier for blanks and my most trusted decorator, who literally cried tears of joy when I told him I was giving him the order. His tears became mine when I learned that a significant portion of the order had been produced incorrectly, and the entire order was in danger of not arriving as originally intended. Worse, I was competing for an additional $1.5 MILLION dollars in program business from the same client, and this problem meant the certain end to any chance I had in earning that business as well.
In looking back on that order, two noteworthy items come to mind:
When we were pursuing the business, I told the buyers “it’s not what happens when things go right that will determine my value, but what happens when things go wrong”
When we learned of the issue, my comment to the decorator was “It doesn’t matter at this moment who caused the problem, it’s what we’re going to do together that will determine our fate”
Many of us would have crumbled in that moment, faced with the potential catastrophe of the financial ramifications of the error that had been made. By staying focused on a successful outcome, we were able to make the necessary changes in course to ensure the most minimal of impact to the order, and when I communicated the issue to my client and our resolution to the problem, their comment to me was “That’s not nearly as bad as we were expecting”. The contract for the program followed soon thereafter.
Faced with sheer disaster, a focus on NOT pointing fingers and a unwavering willingness to not accept the outcome as it was presented were the winning factors in saving what surely could have been a failure of epic proportion. The next time you’re presented with a similar situation (regardless of order size), ask yourself how you too might “lose it” in the way that might best ensure that all members of the transaction can walk away with the least possible damage.
In addition to his role as Director of Team Sales for LEGACY Global Sports, Roger Burnett is the self-proclaimed Maintenance Supervisor for the Worldwide Negativity Defense System. A gardener by marriage, Roger also has a keen eye for marketing and is a founding chef of PromoKitchen. Next time you see Roger at an industry event, share a craft beer or bourbon with him – his laugh is infectious.