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Are You Jeopardizing Your Client Relationships?

We throw our hands skyward, complain, seek change, and yet do nothing...

4/19/2022 | Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, Cliff's Notes

The late, great comedian George Carlin (like him or not, he was funny, he spoke in realities) was once quoted as saying, “Somewhere in the world, by process of elimination, is the world’s worst doctor…must be! The problem is someone has an appointment with him tomorrow!” Same holds true for us, somewhere in the promotions industry is the industry’s worst supplier (and distributor, depending on who is reading this article) and yet we will send and accept orders from these individuals without doing our due diligence in many cases. 

Suppliers do a better job of this by checking the various resources to ensure the client or potential client – distributor – is a good financial risk, but what about the personality, what about loyalty, what about being that true strategic partner – financial is not the only marker?

As a rule, business owners on the distributors side, do a less than average job on two fronts, they often will take an order from a client without doing the proper research on the client, and then they haphazardly send the order to a vendor without checking their viability on several fronts: financial stability, dispute resolution, inventory, loyalty (do they sell direct), technology, customer service…no, we just send the order in and cross our fingers – and pray. Why?

We have managed to commoditize our great industry, relegating ourselves to nothing more than order takers, how tragic. We allow the client to control the process and the direction of our business; we throw our hands skyward, complain, seek change, and yet do nothing. So, what do/can we do? Take charge!

If you find your business is not being managed properly, or you don’t have the capacity, consider working for someone else, you will be saving yourself much heartache overall.

The sales cycle is much longer now, clients take longer to make decisions, have more tools to check your pricing (internet and competitors), and you work extremely hard to gain the value and trust of a relationship and then you cast it to the wind and send it to someone perhaps that you have never worked with in the past…so today, start this process.

Do your due diligence with your clients first. Just because someone gives you an order does not mean you will get paid, the sale in not over until the check clears the bank – remember that. Having a client that gives you a ten-thousand-dollar order and pays you in 120 days, which is just not a good customer. It is a good business practice to ask for references, do a financial check and a lot the client a certain amount of open credit based on your findings. Or use a resource that can help protect your receivables such as factoring or using a financial company like Euler-Hermes.

Look also at characteristics other than financial. Are they easy to work with, responsive, respectful, open to ideas, refer you to others, understanding when issues arise? When selecting strategic partners look at all aspects of that company and its personnel.

When it comes to collaborating with suppliers and before relinquishing the order and your relationship with your client, take the following steps:

  1. CHECK RESOURCES: for instance, if you belong to ASI, they have a service that does an overall report of each supplier, those suppliers are rates in various categories by your peers – the scaling is 1-100, so if someone scores a sixty in dispute resolution be wary. In all fairness to the suppliers often these ratings are skewed by a disgruntled distributor, remember there are two sides to every issue. Suppliers check this rating OFTEN; you can counter and put notes in here as well. Remember the service is only as good as the data that is being input.

  1. NETWORK: if you belong to a regional association, ask your peers who they use, who is helpful and who is not. Have them site examples of excellent work vs. bad and remember the “Two Sides to Every Issue” policy. Networking extends to the major shows like ASI and PPAI as well, these shows are rich with networking opportunities…use them wisely.

  1. ASK AND INTERVIEW: remember too, that YOU must be comfortable with the vendors you work with, it is not JUST the best price, it is about an attitude, getting along and creating a mutual beneficial, long term, strategic relationship. That said, would you just get engaged to someone without really knowing that person? Hopefully not…same holds true here, so here is a brief list on inquiries questions, add as many as you would like to gain your own comfort level.

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you have dedicated customer service representatives, and can I deal with the same person each time?
  •  Where are you located: this helps with shipping logistics?
  •  What is your policy on handling dispute resolution? Scenario: I send you a PO for an event, the PO strictly states, MUST SHIP on 12/01/2010 UPS BLUE for arrival on 12/03/2010 and the imprint color is RED; however, you have imprinted it in BLUE and shipped it UPS RED…how would this be managed?
  •  How deep is your inventory?
  •  Do you decorate in house?
  •  Do you manufacturer domestically or offshore or both?
  •  What is the latest you can ship goods on a given day?
  •  How do you manage your quality control internally?
  •  If I send you goods to decorate, when do you count the goods? When do they arrive? At the time of decorating?
  •  Do you sell direct?
  •  Do you have a subsidiary that sells direct?
  •  Do you have a division that sells retail?
  •  If I create a custom project and another distributor calls wanting a quote on that project, (knowing that the client is shopping) what would you do?
  •  What MAKES YOU DIFFERENT from your competition?

I want to be truly clear; the LARGE MAJORITY of our supplier partners are amazing, honorable, and trustworthy; but as new suppliers enter the market, remember, somewhere out there is the world’s worst supplier…take precautions to ensure that your order, your RELATIONSHIP with your client is protected.

Until next time, continued good selling - CQ

For nearly 40 years, Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, MASI, with his company, Cliff Quicksell Associates, has been speaking, coaching, training, and consulting both nationally and internationally, to association members and small business groups, on more effective ways to market themselves, their products, and services; as well as motivating their personnel. In 2021, Cliff was inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame.

Recognized by PPAI for his creativity, he has won the prestigious PPAI Pyramid Award over 30 times, the Printing Industry's PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity 5 times, and Regional Association CPPA’s Peak Award 6 consecutive years with a total of 8 awards. Cliff has coached countless others with the same level of results. Cliff received PPAI's Ambassador Speaker of the Year Award six consecutive years; and was the inaugural recipient of PPAI's Distinguished Service Award. Named one of top six industry speakers and trainers, he was recognized by PPAI in the book, "PPAI at 100", as having a significant influence in education in their industry. He was recognized by Counselor Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the Promotional Products Industry. 

Cliff’s BLOG 30 Seconds to Greatness won the 8LMedia Award for Most Passed Around Content. Cliff’s most recent book, 30 Seconds to Greatness, is available on his website  Connect with him on LinkedIn or via email at 

Cliff will be launching a new company in the next couple of months geared specifically for small business owners and entrepreneurship. Connect with Cliff to get connected to his podcast and upcoming events.

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