Question: Should I Give Clients What They Want?


A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: I’m being contacted by a lot of clients asking for presale virtual proofs after they narrow down their search, but they don’t want to commit to an order until they see it first. What can I do to sort out the time-wasters from the real buyers?

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This is an ever-growing challenge to our industry, as we continually face client needs for instant gratification and even higher service levels. Qualifying a client can be a challenging proposition, and this presale virtual technique has certainly sent us all on many a fishing expedition. I’ve had success explaining to (potential) customers that it’s much more efficient to get a proper proof upon submission of an order as opposed to a virtual. I reassure them that nothing is produced without approval, and that very often virtuals are just that—virtual interpretation. Factory proofs are carefully speced and received to ensure any decoration challenges are met head-on. We’ve all had the “but it worked on the virtual” conversation [with clients].

Joe Favre
Vice President of Promotional Products
HiTouch Business Solutions
Saddle Brook, New Jersey

Charge for virtuals. This is a way that you can see how serious a potential customer actually is. It is completely fair to ask for a virtual proof prior to purchase. Personally, I wouldn’t want to simply trust [a distributor] whom I have never worked with to get it done right without seeing it first. However, if they haven’t committed to an order yet, let them know that a presale proof will cost X. Tell them when they place the order, the proof charge will be removed, and if you say it, stick to it. Feel free to send an invoice for the proof charge to anyone who doesn’t follow through with an order. That way, at least your time wasn’t completely wasted.

Amber Jewell
Office Manager
Big Promotions
Dallas, Texas

I think this is a fair request by a client. I take a two-tiered approach with these. For my “A-listers,” those repeat clients who do multiple orders with us annually, I give them as many virtuals as they need, no questions asked, because they’re going to order. Even if they don’t order for some reason, I’ve given value and it reinforces the relationship. For other existing clients who do low-volume orders with us, or for brand new clients, I’ll do the virtual plus one revision for free, but I tell them at the onset what additional revisions will cost for the design time.

Mark Stadwiser
President
Specialty Marketing, Inc.
Walnut, California

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A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: What’s something you wish you’d known about this business that you learned through making an expensive mistake? Here’s mine. When my company was just a few years old, we had a new client that was changing their logo. They wanted to introduce the new branding to their staff of 250, so we came up with a promotional gift for each employee. Going with the theme, “We’re changing from head to toe,” we embroidered socks and hats with the new logo, but the products came from two different suppliers. We didn’t do a pre-production sample of either; that was our first mistake. On a call with the client, we learned that when the second product was delivered, its specifying PMS color did not equate to an embroidery thread color match, or even the same brand of embroidery thread. Our hat supplier chose one thread color to match a specific blue, and our sock supplier chose another. We wound up redoing the socks with the same thread color used on the hats, and although we didn’t lose money, we didn’t make much either. Soon after, we got a Robison-Anton thread swatch card and never made that mistake again. What’s something you wish you’d known and what did you learn from it?

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I did an order for chocolate in the early summertime. I didn’t know that you needed to tell suppliers to use dry ice. The chocolates arrived slightly melted. We had to have them redone and I believe we shipped to the location of the event—and now we know! I also think the chocolate companies are better now at pointing this out to distributors or just adding it to the bill.

Melinda Mann Bowden
Owner
PromoHits! Ltd.
Findlay, Ohio

On white, glow-in-the-dark, debossed silicone bands, I did not advise the client to pay extra for the color fill. The bracelets might as well have been blank. Now, light colors always get a color fill.

Lauren Choiniere
Promotional Product Manager
Millennium Marketing Solutions, Inc.
Annapolis Junction, Maryland

My biggest uh-oh was not looking closely enough at an order confirmation. The order was for journals that were supposed to be black with a red tip on the pages. I glanced at the confirmation and thought the red was designating the tip, because we had sent artwork on black paper. The proof was a deboss, so it didn’t show the color. Four-hundred journals hurt a lot, but the supplier met me halfway because they agreed it was confusing. Now, I thoroughly look at all my order confirmations.

Kristina Fleming
Project Coordinator
The J. Paul Company
Lewisville, Texas

I placed an order without a proof and got the wrong item because I put the wrong item number in the purchase order. I learned that you can’t check everything too many times, and don’t assume anything.

Erin Eberhardt
Owner/President
West Shore Associates
West Haven, Connecticut

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A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: Has anyone else had a supplier call your customer directly to talk to them about an order that’s in-house? After 20 years in this business, I just experienced this on an order with a big supplier in the industry. If you have had this happen, how did you handle it? I contacted the vice president of sales, who was very apologetic, but I still can’t believe this happened and I’m not sure how they found the client’s contact information.

What's Your Answer?
Email answers along with your name, title and company name by November 15 to Question@ppai.org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of PPB magazine.

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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