Managing Client Timelines

worker christmas holidays deadlines

With the holiday season in full swing, my dealer partners are in the middle of one of two modes, depending on which channel their core business is in. The retailers are nose-down, hard at work to maximize their revenue between the just-passed Black Friday and the still-to-come Boxing Day.

Meanwhile, my B2B dealers, who focus on industrial and institutional sales, are in the middle of what I like to call “Budget Burning Season.” What that means is that for my clients’ clients, whose year-end is Dec. 31 if they’ve got unallocated funds in their tech budgets this is when they reach out to my client’s account managers and ask “What have you got for me?”

Those budgets need to be spent because if they don’t, those departments won’t be allocated as much next year, and nobody wants that. You can think of those last-minute spends as Christmas coming for my clients’ account managers and by extension for me too. My success is 100% dependent upon my dealer clients’ successes: If they’re up YoY, then I’m up too.

I’ve written before about how my job is to make two sales at once: A sale for me and one for my dealers. You can also think of it as helping to earn two bonuses: one for me and one for the account managers who work for my dealers. When I get those calls and emails from my dealers who are helping their clients burn through their budgets there’s a sense of urgency: Whatever it is we’re vending has to be invoiced before year-end. Which means it needs to ship before year-end. Which isn’t always easy.

This brings me to this editorial’s topic: When is a deadline not a deadline? I’m sure you’ve all experienced deadlines that were absolute hard-stop do-or-die deadlines. As well, you’ve probably all experienced deadlines that were, to quote Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean “More what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”

And sometimes when someone’s telling you the deadline is a drop-dead one, really it’s a soft deadline with some wiggle room in it, but they don’t want you to know that. Figuring out which is which requires some nuance.

One of my dealers once said to me that probably the single greatest proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity is the different rates at which time moves when you want something from a client versus when they want something from you. We’ve all been there: we’re asked to provide for something, not now but RIGHT NOW. It could be submitting a response to a request for a quote or request for a proposal, or an ETA for an on-order product, or whatever.

When you’re asked for something, it’s immediate, but when you’re asking for something of your own, like following up asking for a purchase order or, famously, when they’re going to pay that outstanding invoice, time moves much more slowly.

There are some things you can do to motivate your contacts to move at a non-glacial pace: with product that has logistical timelines or is subject to foreign exchange fluctuations, when you’re quoting out you can set an end date for how long your quoted pricing will be valid. That sometimes works, but creating a sense of urgency can be 50/50 at best.