How I got a buyer fired…

By | March 9, 2015

My client, a furniture store “chain,” had a long history of wrapping their arms around their clients and sticking with them for years. They weren’t about price. They were about relationships, expertise, and trust. It was even in their company slogan.

Their 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. Their TV ads were folksy and family-oriented, even the ones that sought new employees. Everything about them 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 brothers who took over the family’s furniture business long before it caught Warren Buffett’s eye and was bought for a quarter billion dollars. My sales calls weren’t exactly like Norm walking into Cheers, but they were close. I knew everyone there.

Michelle rapidly changed all of that, focusing more on price than relationship. Service and new ideas were secondary. Price was the new king.

First, I lost the business cards. Then the letterhead. Next, the computer invoices. The crown jewel was the presentation folders they’d tuck the invoices into. Twice a year that order generated enough profit to buy a german sports car (used, but at least it had leather seats). The next reorder was two months away and already I could predict what was coming. Death was eminent and it arrived with the words, “I got a better price. Sorry.”

How does a company sell with one philosophy and buy with another?

The letter I wrote to the company President stopped short of being accusatory, but I was certain that if he held it up to the light they could read “Hypocrites!” between the lines. They preached value and loyalty but bought on price. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. I even included samples showing the lower quality and inviting them to check in with other long-time vendors. My argument was simple: Price or Relationship: Which are you?

Other vendors were called and their long-standing relationships were also being ignored for want of a better price. The President and his brother first reassigned Michelle and eventually fired her.

All of this occurred long ago. There was no website to peruse where I could have checked on their Selling Philosophy. Today, you have the opportunity to research a company prior to picking up the phone. It’s right there in the website and couldn’t be clearer: A company that sells on price buys on price. A company that sells on relationship should buy on that same foundation.

Should. Not always. But should.

Naturally, it doesn’t always happen. But at least you can know what you are getting yourself into. If the website reads, “We are the cheapest flooring provider in all of the Midwest!” you should also hear them say, “Vendors beware. We buy on price!” If a company claims to be relationship-based with their customers and practices something else, point it out. Gently. You might be able to change the outcome of your interactions.

The boys became millionaires many times over. Michelle went to work for a movie theater chain. I went on to fame and fortune at NAPL.

You’ve gotta love happy endings!

 

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3 thoughts on “How I got a buyer fired…

  1. M. Hall

    Hi Bill,

    As a seasoned Print Producer, I have several problems with this. I have disagreed with many of your articles (Dear Print Buyer… was ridiculous. I’ll call a lot, but you have to pick up. No. I don’t) but this article is over the top.

    We are not print buyers, like buying pencils or widgets or furniture. We see print projects as custom jobs with many variables. They are produced and paid for, not just bought.

    The article establishes that relationships is what the chain is all about. Seems fair. Relationships, expertise and trust are important. Price is also important.

    It looks like you may have been on easy street for quite a while. You were there from the beginning, know everyone. The chain, now is flush with cash. Cha-ching! Now some new person wants a better price. Service and new ideas were secondary. Price is important. Michelle is not paying for the projects out of her own pocket, she is trying to be a good steward of the furniture stores money. You had her fired. I don’t know your equipment list, but I have a feeling you did not bring a lot to the party with the business cards, letterhead, computer invoices and the “crown jewel” presentation folders. I hope the car reference was a joke. I hope this whole article is a joke. Why can’t a company have a different philosophy with buying and selling. Like maybe buy low, sell high?

    The letter writing to the president was a low blow. Did you skip over the relationship discussion part with Michelle ? Explaining the value, the cost of service. As an incumbent, did you get a chance to match a price ? What value did you bring ? Why couldn’t you get close to the competitors cost ? I have a feeling you just went over her head to the president. That was less than a relationship, expertise and trust move.

    I don’t know what back slapping, let me buy you a drink, good ol boy world you live in, but in today world price is very important. (along with trust, service etc…) I don’t care that you are pals with the boss. By him a drink, go crazy. As a print producer, it’s important to find that line between the best quality for the right price.

    The worst part about the article, and this is where you show your true colors. You seem proud to have cost a person their job that they may have been qualified to do (Michelle was originally hired for that position. Was the owner wrong in hiring her ?) That ending is a little twisted. You want a relationship, go home to your wife, buy a dog. You want to print ? Get better pricing.

  2. Bill Farquharson

    The point of this blog was that companies who scream “value and relationship” to their customers should value the relationships they have with vendors. At all cost? No. But they shouldn’t talk out of both sides of their mouths. Michelle was fired, ultimately, because she did not fit the company culture. The owners of the company set a standard, even gave her a second chance, and then parted ways. You make a series of assumptions here that are flat out wrong, but then if you set out to find the negative, you will succeed every time, especially when the view is from on high and mighty. My suggestion to you is that you write a blog from your point of view and express your opinions. Maybe they are valid. Maybe not. Controversy makes for good reading. Fair warning: Speaking from the horse’s mouth, you’ll be subjected to comments from the other side as well.

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