These are crazy times. Demand for door and window products seems to be at an all time high with no end in sight. On any other planet that would be great news but not when it is coupled with material shortages, congestion at the ports, lack of qualified truck drivers, and anything else that could happen to keep materials from getting to your customers on a timely basis. Some or all of this seems to happen on a daily basis and this causes us to disappoint our customers.

Yet they understand. Yes, our customers realize the state that our world is in and they seem to take it in stride. The one thing that really sets them off, however, is a failure to communicate. No one likes to deliver bad news. It’s no fun to tell a customer that his or her shipment is going to be delayed. Or, worse yet, they aren’t going to get all of the product that they order, but only a portion of it. Nobody likes to tell a purchasing agent that lead times on new orders have just gone from five business days to 25 business days. It’s an unpleasant conversation. Yet the news must be communicated.

You see our customers also have customers. When things change or delays are coming, our customers need to adapt accordingly and, in turn, notify their customers of any delays or shortages to their orders. They need to execute backup plans, look for alternative materials, and modify work schedules to accommodate the changes in available resources. But none of this is possible if the bad news is not conveyed. Not returning phone calls and emails eats up valuable time needed for customers to react. This silence does not change the situation. It only makes matters worse!

It also alienates your customer. You see, a big part of being in sales is being able to deliver not only the good news, but the bad news as well. Being up front with your customers and helping them work through these tough situations can actually serve to endear you to them, even when things seem to be going south.

This week I had to tell a customer about a delay in his order for a critical component that would result in him having to shut his factory down. I told him of the news the same minute I found out. I gave him the reasons why. He wasn’t happy but he understands the state of the world in which we are operating. Together, we pondered the options.

He lost sleep. I lost sleep.

The next morning, I woke up remembering that a few months back, I sold some overstock product to another customer. It wasn’t a primary component for him, but he did use it occasionally, so he bought it at a great price, saving it for a rainy day. So, I called him, and he agreed to sell some of it to my customer who was facing the plant shutdown. His kindness turned this rainy day stock into sunshine for my customer facing the plant shutdown!

Had I failed to call my customer with the bad news, it could have saved me the discomfort of telling him but ultimately would have alienated him further, possibly resulting in losing him as a customer forever. One must realize that we and our customers are in this together. By delivering the news, good or bad, in a timely manner, and helping in any way possible to find a solution, one can turn a situation that would otherwise alienate a customer into an outcome that serves to endear you to that customer. Proper and timely communication together with your best effort to help in finding solutions makes you a valuable business partner. It forms lasting bonds with your customer!

When I started this blog, I originally entitled it, “How to Lose a Customer.” But, as I finish pondering these thoughts, I find myself changing the title to,“How to Endear a Customer.” That’s the art of sales—being able to turn an otherwise bad situation into a good one.

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