A Distributor Asks: My client called me with a product request for a campaign she’s planning. She and her team were really enthusiastic about the idea, but I thought it was all wrong for their marketing objectives. I said I could get her what she wanted, but I also spontaneously threw out some other suggestions over the phone. She accused me of trying to upsell her and said she wanted to stick to the original idea. What is the best way to offer alternative product ideas when clients have their mind set on something?
Joseph G. Scott, MAS Vice President Scott & Associates, Inc. UPIC: SCOTTASC
Wow, you got a smackdown for going above and beyond, and not being an order taker. I’m glad to hear that you understood their objective (probably their message and their target) and realized that their idea was not the best. I used to get “sales-Tourette’s syndrome” on occasion, and now we bill for our time. Perhaps next time, ask if they would like to hear alternative ideas, which will be less than, equal to and greater than their budget.
VP, U.S. Operations
Weepuline, LLC UPIC: WEEPULS
Spontaneously throwing out other suggestions over the phone basically invalidates your client’s ideas, which they may take a bit personally. It’s usually best to focus on what your client wants during the phone call. Then prepare to present exactly what they asked for. That way they know that you heard them and they can feel validated. After you have shown them what they asked for, then you can show them alternative ideas.
This is where you put your best foot forward in an attempt to serve their best interests from your perspective. If they still like their idea over yours, then you sell them that. This way you validate your client and your client’s team. You show them that you have thoughts also, but you do so without disrespecting their ideas or enthusiasm.Joe Joslin President Joslin Advertising & Marketing, Inc. UPIC: JOSLIN01
If she depends on you, as a professional, she should at least listen to you and why you think the product she selected is inappropriate. If she doesn’t want to listen, I suggest two solutions: Get her what she wants, and if the campaign fails, it’s her fault. Or don’t take the order. It’s a no-win situation. I am not sure you want this kind of client in the first place.
Laraine Hicks, CAS Owner Laraine’s Promotional Products UPIC: C602899
I would get a sample of what she wants and also what you suggest and compare them. You could gently give her the pros and cons of both. I had an opportunity to do something like this and, after seeing the sample, the client found it was not right for the audience.
Lee McCubbin, CRM Co-Owner McCubbin Trophy & Engraving UPIC: mctrophy
While teaching motorcycle safety classes, I learned that the student is the best expert. They are the best expert on their skill and comfort level. Listen to that. If a customer has already brainstormed an idea and made a plan, that plan is what they will put their whole heart into. Are there better or different ways to accomplish your customer’s goal? Of course. But you were not invited to the brainstorming sessions, and they came to you with a completed plan. Your job is to do what they ask you to do for them.
Of course we are all consultants as well as retailers. If at any time I really believed that a customer might fall flat on their face using their own idea, I would ask if they would like me to personally show them some “same price” alternatives that they may not have known about or considered. “Same price” is a key here because you are not upselling them. You are making the offer to be a consultant to them. Maybe they did not know that you would be open to doing that. If they are receptive to your offer, then gather your promotion ideas and products and go see them. If they are unreceptive, be gracious and do as they ask. Remind them that you are always available to consult with them on projects. Send them a “thank you for your order” card and reinforce that you are willing and able to be a member of their team in the future.
John W. Patterson, MAS Owner Total Promotions Group, Inc. UPIC: TOTALPRO
Probably the biggest contributor to her accusation was timing. There must be a trust factor in place or she wouldn’t have called you about getting the info. This might have worked a little better if you had gotten the information on the product she requested, and then had alternatives ready, presenting them in the same meeting after you had prepped her with the answers to why the alternative might be better. Over the past 26 years, I have had several instances where clients asked for something that wasn’t right (in my estimation) for them because of image, quality, price or whatever. Presenting the alternatives along with the original request has not always worked, but most of the time it did.
Chris Goes President Goes Lithographing Company UPIC: GOES0002
You goofed. She wanted you to perform for her client. You agreed to and should have ended it there—for now— and sent the sample and your idea enclosed with a note. Then let her use it if needed. If it was not needed then you got the sample order; if yours was chosen then she wins, too.
David J. Hawes, MAS+ Geiger
Brand Architect UPIC: geiger
This isn’t about product ideas. It’s about the most important element in any relationship: trust. No product solution on the planet can compensate for a lack of trust. When clients know you have their best interest at heart, they will welcome your suggestions.
Joy N. Ferguson, CAS President
Sterling Ideas Unlimited! UPIC: STLNIDSU
Having experienced this same dilemma early in my career, I have adopted this rule: If the customer’s idea will not make them look ridiculous and it will not hurt anyone, I reassure him or her that it is a fabulous idea.
If the answer is yes, then you might ask: “Are you firm on that idea? Or are you open to suggestions?” If firm, gently suggest your reasoning. (It may be harmful to young people, present choking hazards, or present difficulty in distribution, etc.)
Otherwise, my customer is brilliant. And truly, most of my clients are on target.
A daycare facility wanted t-shirts for the parents. Thinking that there was a better way to reach parents, we gave an alternative suggestion. Guess what? They purchased t-shirts elsewhere and we never heard from them again.
When a client calls you for a specific gift, and you know he or she (and the committee) have given it thought, it will appear to the client that you are immediately discounting the committee’s advertising savvy, and you may even appear to be a know-it-all.