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!