Last year my wife and I ordered new carpeting from a nation-wide retailer for the second floor level of our house. The contracted installers sent us a day and time (1:00pm) to install the carpet which we agreed to. My wife then made plans to be home at that time by taking a half day vacation from work.
On the day of the installation the installer called during the lunch hour and said they would need to move the start time to 2:00. This was due to the fact that the earlier jobs were taking longer than had been planned. At 2:30 and with no sign of the installers, my wife called them and was informed they would be there by 4:00. At 4:15 another call from the installer moved the time to 5:00. At 5:30 another call from the installer requested a completely new day and time. For obvious reasons my wife was livid!
Not only had she taken a half day vacation for nothing, she would now need to reschedule the installation and take additional vacation time off. We later found out that the installer never really planned to show up at all. They had overbooked the entire day but were too afraid to let us know the afternoon before. Of course if we had been told a day earlier, my wife could have gone into work and simply rescheduled the vacation time. But now it was too late.
This story isn’t a new one. It’s happened to nearly everyone reading this Blog. A retailer makes a commitment and you make plans based on that commitment. Then the retailer breaks their commitment without ample time for you to make a contingency plan. Sometimes the retailer calls to let you know just before the commitment was to take place. And sometimes they don’t call at all. And in that instance you probably won’t be buying anything from that retailer again. Welcome to global purchasing!
Let’s put this in a business perspective. A supplier makes a commitment to me for a part to be delivered on a specific day. I then communicate that commitment to other departments in my company, i.e. planning, manufacturing, quality, etc. The commitment isn’t met by the supplier and I end up with egg on face as well as having department managers upset with you and me. Had I known ahead of time that the part would not be arriving as promised I could have made contingency plans with each department by working around that part and completing other tasks. But now it’s too late.
I know there are times that Sales Professionals are blind sighted by their own sub-suppliers or even the people within their own company. Information wasn’t reported to them in a timely manner if at all and they are surprised as much as I am that the commitment wasn’t met. But there are other times when Sales Professionals know the commitment won’t be met and don’t say anything because they’re afraid of the immediate repercussion from the Buyer. And let’s face it, a large percentage of Buyers can make your life miserable. But putting off telling about a time delay won’t help, especially if the Buyer finds out you knew about the delay and said nothing.
Today’s Sales Advice from the Buyer’s Desk is to inform the Buyer as quickly as possible about any delay (or potential delay) whether it’s a commitment or something that would prevent the Buyer and his company from meeting their own deadlines. Yes, the Buyer will initially be upset. Nothing can prevent that. But it will be much worse if the Buyer knew there had been time to make a contingency plan on their end. This is true not only for large commitments related to documentation, pricing and timing, but even committing to a phone call or an e-mail. You tell a Buyer you’ll send him an e-mail by 4:00pm but it never happens. Like any promise, the Buyer most likely made plans based on your commitment. And in most cases, the Buyer made their own commitment to their manager based on yours. So if you don’t come through, neither can they. And there’s nothing more that upsets a Buyer then having them take the heat from their manager when the fault was yours.
So the minute you realize you can’t follow through one your commitment you need to immediately contact the Buyer and let him know about it so he can make other plans. And from The Buyer’s Desk, here’s the best way to handle a delay in commitments:
1. Apologize for the delay and take responsibility for it. Don’t try to blame it on others when you’re the one who made the commitment.
2. Let the Buyer know what you’re doing to ensure the commitment will be met as quickly as possible. Give them some detail and offer to provide a step-by-step corrective action plan including when each step will be taken.
3. Offer a “consolation prize”; a price reduction, free options or something of value that will help to offset what was lost. Ask if there’s anything your company to do in the meantime to offset the issue you’ve created for the Buyer.
4. Provide what you can for now with a follow up of the full commitment at a new specified time. If you can’t delivery 100% of what you committed, maybe 75% is enough for the Buyer to get by.
5. And finally, absolutely ensure that the new commitment is met as quickly as possible and is completed on or before the promised time.
Not meeting a commitment when you were unaware of the cause is understandable. Not making sure the Buyer is aware of it as soon as possible is inexcusable. Will the Buyer be upset no matter what happens? Of course. Irritation and negative consequences will be short lived if the Buyer is informed ASAP. But these feelings and reactions will be compounded heavily and perhaps forever if the Buyer could have made other plans but were never told in time . . . if at all.