'You're Fired' stirs up emotions of inadequacy, self doubt, and depression. I should know. I've been fired - a lot. From jobs, from customers, from relationships. In Part 2 of this series, I will focus on the customers.
I've held many sales roles over my years in business. There were many times I was fired and didn't really know it.
Losing a bid to another company for various or sometimes undisclosed reasons
A customer slowly migrates sales to the competition
A new hire at a current customer brings thier business relationships with them
So many lessons in there:
Don't be afraid to ask why you lost the bid and learn from that moving forward. Your competition exploited your weaknesses - and it's possible that you weren't aware of those weaknesses. Don't make that mistake again.
Be aware and engaged at all levels of the companies you do business with. The more you understand about the issues they are facing internally and the perceived results of their experience with your company, the less likely you are to miss the slow migration to your competition.
Respect that usually relationships trump all else. Maybe you just can't save that account when the new person arrives. But, if you took good care of your previous contact and you keep in touch; you can potentially gain the business of their new company.
The first really memorable time I was fired by a customer was when a rather large non-profit customer requested both price matching and local production of our future print jobs. When the boxes arrived in Nashville from Louisville, that was not local enough. And it was the last order we got from them.
Lesson: Understand more than just what the customer wants - buy why and how much they want it. What are the tradeoffs they are willing to make, if any? Bottom line, as more questions and clarify at every stage of the sale. Relate those clarifications back to the original requests.
But now, let's skip to the most valuable lesson I've learned from getting fired by a customer:
The customer was actually a company I left (amicably) when I started my own business. I knew their business, their people and their structure well. I was engaged at all levels of the organization. I was aware of the corporate politics and respectful of potential roadblocks.
Our company provided a solution that, with the proper communication between our two companies, could reduce their costs, consolidate their vendors, increase their employee efficiency, and standardize and elevate their brand throughout the very decentralized sales structure. Our company provided technology at an extreme discount. We offered free, ongoing training on the technology to anyone who requested it. We offered affordable 24 hour technical support. We provided free file prep on all the printed products they orders and arranged free storage for all inventory items. We provided guarantees on all products. If they were not happy with any job, it was refunded or replaced. It was a good deal for the customer and had sponsorship at the highest levels of the organization.
Let's not pretend that the relationship was always rosy. Those roadblocks I mentioned above were intense and required frequent navigational adjustments. And, in the end, a trusted supplier dropped a hint that the company was sourcing new technology to replace ours. The orders started dropping off, and the customer's design team started requesting art templates that we had always held for them on our servers. The signs were there and we knew where this trail would end. And it did. And that hurt. For about 10 minutes. And then, as we do, our management team had a discussion about what we could or would have done differently. We tried to identify the lessons.
Lesson 1: If you're saving a customer money and they don't know it, you are only hurting yourself. Report. Report. Report.
Lesson 2: Instead of fixing people's mistakes (in this case the fixes we provided for free and frequently did not bring to the customer's attention), teach them how to avoid making them in the future.
Lesson 3: Don't count on a high level sponsor in any account, if the others in the organization can override their authority.
Lesson 4: Corporations (and most people) are self serving. You can either learn to be a part of that culture, find the rare exceptions that are not self serving at the expense of employees, or realize when no efforts to address your customer's internal politics will be enough. And move on.
But the biggest lesson of all those failures was gratitude for failure in general. Here's hoping these gratitudes can be applied in your business and life:
Gratitude that, if you charge for the work you provide, your customer will respect and realize that the work is happening.
Gratitude that, if you have done all you can, but that's not enough - move on, similar or better opportunities await elsewhere.
Gratitude that if there is not a cultural fit with a certain customer(s), there will be somewhere else. And the rewards of finding the ideal clients for your business are worth the (sometimes unpleasant) journey there. Strive for mutually beneficial relationships.
Gratitude that great partnerships with your supply chain can provide valuable insights in all areas of your business.
The bottom line is this when it comes to customers firing you:
1) You deserved it.
2) You should have recognized earlier that this was not a good fit and either fixed it or fired them first.
3) Your time is better spent on the mutually beneficial relationships with your ideal customers.
So take those lessons from this reckless optimist and run go make your business experience a better one.
Kimble Bosworth is the founder and owner of Proforma Printelligence in Nashville, TN where, along with her team, cover their clients print, promo and multimedia. If you’re in a marketing pinch, sometimes they will even cover your ass. If you would like to connect with Kimble, here are her preferred methods: