Responsiveness and Reliability
As any regular reader of my columns will know, one of my significant beliefs is critical to any relationship between a manufacturer and consultants/specifiers. It’s about two things: responsiveness and reliability. Therefore, I present the following story as an illustration of precisely what NOT to do if you are a manufacturer. Take heed.
In late December and early January, one of our industry’s largest and most diverse companies reached out via its newly hired consultant liaison/regional representative. The rep asked for a meeting to discuss the company’s relationship with us and the markets we serve.
It should be noted that this company had — for all intents and purposes — totally ignored us and other small firms in our area for more than 5 years. I will not use its name — the name isn’t the point. However, I will note that its inaction and failures delineated below resulted in losing two significant HOW systems’ opportunities. Both HOWs opted to install other companies’ products. About the companies they chose? These companies and providers responded to queries/requests AND followed up on those with information and product support.
Please note these events discussed took place before the pandemic outbreak. They happened in the real world at the beginning of 2020 and were not impacted by the pandemic.
Like most of our consulting, design and acoustic colleagues, we have developed over our 30+ years a list of manufacturers and resources. This list denotes what companies we can rely on to deliver on time, support their products and services, and work with us in the somewhat specialized manner that we deploy to serve small- to medium-sized HOW congregations.
These companies I speak of have demonstrated a willingness to support our methods and cooperate. We occasionally need something a little off the beaten path or a solution not typically offered on a price sheet. The list is not long by any means, but it covers all the basic categories of equipment, services and support in our geographic area.
The large manufacturer in question had been on this list maybe 8-10 years ago, but numerous personnel changes, retirements, re-shuffling of sales and marketing departments and various other corporate shifts changed that. It had led to a total lack of communication or any effort to stay in touch with us or keep us updated on products, business practices and support structures. So, by default, it fell off the list, and we did not reach out to reconnect after three failed attempts to do so. I figured if no one there could find the time to respond, the company didn’t want our business.
Out of the Blue
To my surprise, one day in late December, just before the holiday break, the phone rang. It was the new consultant liaison from that company. As stated before, he asked to have a meeting in January when he was going to be in our area. He also asked why we weren’t using any products that he could see in the summary of his order from our region.
That gave me some pause, but I decided to answer him bluntly.
“I don’t specify or use your products because no one from your company has been in touch with us for more than 5 years, and therefore we assumed you didn’t want our business. Frankly, I have all of your product categories covered by other suppliers, so I don’t need your gear, but I’m willing to have lunch to discuss the situation.”
We agreed on a date and time, and I met him for lunch at a local coffee shop. He began by asking what the situation was, and I told him. He was “not surprised” but offered to correct the issues, put us in touch with the right teams internally, and offered to take a few of our basic system designs and match them to his products for price and spec comparisons. Figuring I had nothing to lose and maybe something to gain, I agreed with his proposal and gave him a breakdown of a couple of semistandard approaches we use as templates.
This is where it all went sideways. The company completely dropped the ball on completing what he had proposed in any way shape or form. About a week later, he called back and asked if I could do a teleconference with his HOW team leader and discuss the systems and options so the company could format a response and provide data.
The independent representative of the local company was on this call, who agreed to forward to us all the latest product data and basic pricing info for file and reference. The team leader promised to review the systems templates we had given him, find equivalent products and price points and respond with a breakdown of offers by system configuration we had supplied. He said it would take a week or two.
Two weeks passed, and nothing arrived from the company: no phone, no email, no snail mail. I decided to give them the benefit of an extra week or so, things happen.
Almost four weeks later, nothing had turned up. I tried reaching out to the liaison, but he no longer returned my calls. OK, I figured I got a free lunch and wasted a few hours but no significant loss.
It occurred to me then that the company had made specific commitments and promised to deliver precise information and results based on what we had freely given them, yet they hadn’t. They had our data, but we had nothing in return. How is that fair?
I started a concerted contact campaign with everyone who had been in touch with us, but all I got in return was dead silence. Finally, in early March, just before the pandemic exploded, I caught the consultant liaison early one morning at his desk, and I asked him what the hell was going on. He admitted that his company had screwed this up. He had no good reason why except to say that there had been yet another reorganization of the internal sales and marketing structure. He said this is why it had probably fallen through the cracks.
I dropped a considerable heavyweight on him, pointing out that the people who made the commitments were still employed and had failed to keep promises. I also told him that this kind of failure did not bode well for any future relationships, asked for our templates to be returned, and forbid their use anyway.
What do you think happened next? If you guessed nothing, you win. As of the middle of May, I have yet to see our templates or anything else from this company.
A Lesson to Learn
If you are a manufacturer, please take this as a cautionary tale of not developing and nurturing relationships. The company in question is now on our other list — the bad one. It’s not a list you want to join.