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Monday, February 5, 2018

Bait and Switch or Seller Beware!

I have been in sales for most of my career.  That is a lot of years.    Over 30 to be exact.   Sales is a very unique career.   Lots of nuances, trends, tricks and hurdles.  A good salesperson never quits learning from experience though.   We have had some tough deals/losses here in the last couple of months.

I want to highlight a recent experience. 

There are a lot of people that really don't understand the value and/or the cost of building a trade show exhibit.  There are so many things to take into consideration. 

  1. Build custom?   
  2. Use a system
  3. Lightweight vs. heavy?
These are very big generalizations but they are important for the message of this story.  We can build any custom exhibit you want out of wood panels, with fabric or vinyl or sintra or laminate.   We have carpenters that can build anything.   We tend to shy away from that, because the custom wood exhibits are heavy and can often require tools to assemble.

At Total Displays we tend to focus on systems where frames are easy to assemble, more lightweight (saving money on drayage - more on that later).   The other thing with systems is they can be reconfigured easily and/or can break down from a larger exhibit down to a smaller exhibit, often saving significant money.

Recently we had a company reach out to us about building an island exhibit.   I have called on this company before (although they didn't remember that).   I remember that they said, they built their own exhibits.   I have seen pictures of their exhibits, and they absolutely built it themselves.   They were not built by a trade show exhibit house.   Generally people that think they can do it better than an exhibit house are not going to be interested in buying.  That is fine, I just don't take the time to call on them.

So, I was very surprised when I received a request to call them because they were building a new island exhibit.
Image result for red flag

RED FLAG ALERT - RED FLAG ALERT - RED FLAG ALERT - RED FLAG ALERT - RED FLAG ALERT.
                                                                                                                                                They told me they already had an exhibit house design and bid on an exhibit for them.  The exhibit house told them they had to make a decision in 4 days in order to get the exhibit built in time for their show.  (Shame on the exhibit house.   There were 3 months available to build this exhibit.  That should have been plenty of time.  It was not a complicated island.  But, I digress).  They liked the design but didn't like the price tag.  They wanted to know if we could help them.

Now, before you get all excited.  We did not take the other exhibit house's renderings and say, yes we can build that even though the client provided us with those renderings.   That would be unethical.  We designed our own exhibit after meeting with the client and reviewing their needs.

We presented our option and they liked it.  They had us do 7, yes 7, revisions.   Now make the depth 1/2", now it 7", how about 13.5".   The tower heights?   Let's do all 16' towers.   No, let's do a 14' a 12' a 10'.   Oh and then can you price me out an 8' too?   Oh, and I don't like these counters, can you do something different?   Oh, on those different counters, I like the first one better, can you change them back?   The chairs at the table need to be bar height.  We want the main part of the tower to be a light box.   We want the side part to be a lightbox too.   No, we only want the side part to be a light box and the main part to not be light boxes.   Of course every one of these required detailed pricing.   Can you change the gray carpet to black?

And yes we did it.  Because that is our job.   That is what we do.   We gave them everything and exactly what they wanted.   We went to wrap up the order because our contact told us that the business was ours and that he just needed to get the final approval from his boss.

GUESS WHAT?   SURPRISE (not really).  We got the email that they decided to send it out to another exhibit house to bid.  Honestly, it does not surprise me in the least.   The red flags went up when they came to us after the first exhibit company.   I need to learn to listen to that little nagging voice in my head.   

Image result for walk awayImage result for surpriseI wanted to walk away from the business.   My gut told me, this was not a good cultural fit for our company.   But, as a small business it is difficult to walk away from any business.   I should have listened to myself.

We are about honesty and partnerships.   I never should have engaged with a prospect that was willing to let a company put that many hours and effort into a deal (which they most likely assumed was theirs and they were possibly told by the prospect that the deal was theirs, like we were) and then turn it over to someone else.

You may say, that I failed at my job of providing them a solution and selling the value.   Maybe that is true.  But honestly, I don't want to do business with a company that works that way.   I would much rather find the prospects that become long time customers that appreciate what we do for them.  We are much more likely to keep them happy!

Lesson learned.   The end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 have had some tough lessons.   I will continue to grow and get better so that I can better service the clients and prospects that come my way.

Have you ever walked away from a deal or a customer?



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Lori Hanken has been in sales and marketing for over 30 years. She is passionate about service and providing value to her vendors, prospects and clients. Lori is currently co-owner of Total Displays with her husband David. They help people look great at events, trade shows, in retail, museums and develop long partnerships with customers and suppliers. If you would like to learn more, email her at lori@totaldisplays.com. She is an open networker, connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Read other Total Displays Blog posts at http://totaldisplays.blogspot.com/

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