A Customer’s Hypocrisy

The furniture store, if you can call it that, had a long history of wrapping its arms around clients and sticking with them for years. It wasn’t about price. The store was about relationships, expertise and trust.

Its sales reps were not compensated on a commission basis so you had the feeling that they were there to ensure that you made the right decision for you and not for their paycheck. The store’s TV ads were folksy and family-oriented, even the ones that sought new employees. Everything about the business was relationship-based and everyone there had that same mentality.

Everyone, that is, except for Michelle.

Michelle was the new Print Buyer. I was the long-established, incumbent print provider. I knew the boys who took over the family business long before they made it a chain that Warren Buffett would eventually buy for a quarter billion dollars. My sales calls weren’t exactly like Norm walking into Cheers, but they were close.

Michelle rapidly changed all of that. First, I lost the business card printing. Then the letterhead. Next, the computer invoices. The crown jewel was the presentation folders it tucked the invoices into.

Twice a year, that order generated enough profit to buy a German sports car. The next reorder was two months away and I could predict what was coming. Death was eminent.

The letter I wrote to the brothers stopped short of being accusatory, but I was certain that—if they held it up to the light—between the lines they could read, “Hypocrites!” How could a company buy with one philosophy and sell with another? It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right.

I even included samples showing the lower quality and invited them to check in with other long-time vendors. My argument was simple: Price or Relationship – Which are you about?

As a 30 year sales veteran, Bill has the perspective of a been-there, done-that sales rep in the commercial print arena. Following sales fundamentals and giving unapologetically "old school" advice, he writes and speaks in an entertaining fashion to make his points to sales people and owners who sell. "Bill Farquharson will drive your sales momentum."
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  • CGA

    Now I know why print buyers are always too busy to meet… too busy reading blogs. Seriously, no sales reps respond, but the buyers are all over this? Bill didn’t "throw a tantrum" and it certainly isn’t a training issue Margie. What he did is understand the culture at his client and the importance of relationships in their business. It is a basic requirement for any employee (including print buyers) to understand what a company values… Michelle didn’t get it. Bill mentioned something about low quality samples, so it sounds like all the print buyer did was go with the down and dirty, cheapest printer she could find (I wish Bill would have expanded on this). Yes, Bill did go over her head. Get used to it because the best reps will always leverage an existing relationship at a higher level or develop a new one if someone at a lower level is not living up to the company’s core values. Also, we love it when the print buyer is away for a tour and/or reviewing the most relevant samples… When this happens, they don’t see us helping the person who cuts their check make their business better.

  • printman

    I agree with Bill, 100%. It continues to amaze me that companies try to sell their product under one model(not cheapest price as a general rule) yet buy under another(cheapest price wins, heck with other value propositions). Hypocrisy is ruling in many companies.

  • Another print buyer

    For me the jury is still out, and I hope Bill will tell more details about the situation. If Michelle just tossed you, the owner’s favorite, out in favor for her favorite without giving you opportunities to quote, show her how you’re better in service and value than her guy, then shame on her. Print buying strictly by relationships and who’s your buddy is never a good practice. But if she did her homework and looked for equally qualified sources that matched your service and quality and happened to cost less, and she can show the proof of that to her bosses, then shame on them for getting rid of her. She did her job. And shame on Bill for taking the relationship a little too much for granted, instead of rising to the challenge presented by some new competitors to demonstrate why his company was still the best choice for her and worth the extra cost. Assuming she gave you that chance, of course.

  • margiedana

    So let me get this straight: you cost this new print buyer her job because she used another or several other printers? I wasn’t there, of course, and don’t know the particulars, Bill, but I think it stinks. Why blame her and not her boss or manager for not training her right – if indeed, they emphasized relationship more than great pricing? I have a hard time believing this mighty-mighty furniture store doesn’t buy on price. Print buyer Michelle was not a hypocrite. She probably thought she was doing the best job for her employer. If they failed to teach her about protecting existing relationships, she shouldn’t have taken the fall. Just my humble opinion.

  • PJK

    Wow. I did not realize the job of the print buyer was to service your needs. Bill, I generally enjoy your blogs, but as a print buyer myself I have to disagree with you on this one. You basically threw a tantrum because your toy got taken away, and you went over the buyer’s head.

  • Print Buyer Professional

    Michelle fits in perfectly working for a movie theater chain and Bill you were a true professional in saving the company from an amateur, who lied to get her print buying job. If she was a professional who knew her craft, she should of called you in and hammered out your current suppler relationship and terms. All variables should of been on the table. Lessons here to be learnt, if you want to knock out the competition, be prepared to take on the Bill’s of the world. Bill’s clients mostly sell on the relationship and should buy from you if you can match them. Takes time, start off with a little hole in the dam.


    "She took your ideas and went shopping" Oh my—- That never happens!!!!

  • Kelly Mallozzi

    For igniting one of the most spirited discussions I’ve ever seen here, and for illustrating to buyers how frustrating it is for us to feel that our service to customers can sometimes be THAT precarious! good for you for not taking it lying down! because, as Margie mentions, you would look a little like Gulliver.