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?
All of this occurred long ago. There were no websites, only ads. Today, you have the opportunity to research a company prior to picking up the phone and predicting the basis of the customer/vendor relationship. It’s right there on the website and couldn’t be clearer:
- A company that sells on price buys on price.
- A company that sells the relationship should buy on that same foundation.
My letter started a chain reaction that saw Michelle transferred internally. In time, she quit and order was restored. Calling the brothers out on their hypocrisy yielded the desired result and taught me to recognize a valuable pre-call research tool.
The boys became millionaires many times over. Michelle went to work for a movie theater chain. I’m an unpaid blogger.
You’ve gotta love happy endings!
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