Trying to Act Professionally

I always try to act professionally at my job – I really do. It is never good to burn your bridges with anyone as you never know where you will end up – or where they will end up. On occasion the bridge must be burned, however. I think that is a normal part of doing business in a competitive marketplace. In other words, you can’t let someone stomp on you forever, or have endless meetings with you with the illusion that they are going to buy goods or services from you.

This happened to me a few weeks ago. A certain customer who we have been trying to sell goods to for at least a decade called me looking for pricing yet again. I have tried to sell things to this company, my outside sales staff have had several meetings over the years with them, all for naught. And when I say naught, I mean that this company has bought virtually zero from me. So the other day they called yet again for pricing and wanted me to put together yet another package for them and I finally became a little bit unprofessional and laid the cards out on the table.

I said to this person that we have tried for years and years to gain their business, with the most recent sit down happening about six months ago and as usual, nothing happened on their end after we followed up several times. No explanations, no purchases. So I just quoted this person a super high price and left it at that. The owner of the company then called me up, and reamed me out up one side and down the other. I was going to blow up, but caught myself, told him that I was sorry that things didn’t work out between us, and hung up the phone. Bridge burned. But what does he expect? I think he was mad because he was taking my pricing and giving it to my competitors, or using my packages of goods, services and pricing to pimp his suppliers. What pissed me off is that he was mad at me for simply telling him the truth – that we have tried our very best, and it is obviously not good enough for him. So he calls me and cusses me up one side and down the other. Where is the connection with that? Perhaps I didn’t need him as a customer anyway.

I almost totally burned another bridge yesterday. I buy literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise from a vendor, and needed a $20 favor. I was given the runaround by a customer service rep, and sent back an email to her explaining that I knew she was in the right by denying the favor, but I needed this $20 favor to help me out, and that if she needed clarification to call my TSM (Territory Sales Manager). She flamed me and copied half of her company! You want to talk about someone who was pissed off? I literally had to step outside and take a walk for about five minutes to cool down.

My first reaction was to reply to all and flame her in the biggest way she has ever been flamed, but I stopped there. I simply forwarded the email thread to my TSM and told him to take care of it. He will. That was a pretty big step for me as a businessman and a person. This customer service rep will get hers though, in the end. My feelings on being flamed over $20 will be known to my TSM, and his boss verbally at our next sit down. I will bring the email thread with me and highlight the best parts and show them how professionally I acted and in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars of business I get treated like a bum on the side of the road begging for quarters.

There will be no email thread of me flaming these guys over dinner and of me flaming this customer service rep – just the record of her flaming me. I think that is a much more professional way to handle this.

Too bad for her that she burned her bridge with me.

Cross posted at LITGM.

11 thoughts on “Trying to Act Professionally”

  1. Perhaps I didn’t need him as a customer anyway.

    James Lileks was blogging about his struggle to find a way to increase flagging newspaper readership, and woo readers who had left. He talked to some college students and asked if they subscribed, or bought the paper from the streetside vending machines.

    They explained that they got their news from free online sources. They never paid subscriptions for news because some news service will provide it for free.

    So Lileks thanked them and moved on without bothering to use the pitch he had prepared. Why? “They weren’t coming back to the newspaper. we never had them in the first place.”

    You say you didn’t need him as a customer. I say he was never a customer in the first place. No harm done.


  2. CSR’s are a bad place to go for favors. They have their script and have to stick with it. It’s best to get favors like you asked straight from sales. They have much more flexibility.

  3. Sometimes you do need to burn bridges.

    Back when I worked at Apple Technical support, I got a case landed on my desk in which a women had been calling for a couple of years about many different problems with several machines. A few of her problems were legitimate but most were not. After talking to her a couple of times, I eventually realized that nothing we could do would satisfy her. So after listening to her latest rant, I said, “Mam, I think we just need to refund your money for all your apple products and then you need to get another computing platform.” She was flabbergasted but I simply pointed out that we had been unable to satisfy her and that I didn’t think that would change in the future.

    I got her a full refund (something we never did) by calculating we had spent nearly $10,000 in repair cost and tech time trying to satisfy her. She went away and never came back.

    Business, especially in sales, develops and attitude of keeping a customer at any cost but customers need to judged on a cost/benefit basis just like anything else. We don’t do the customer any favors by losing money dealing with them. Eventually, we will both be worse off.

    I do agree strongly that there is never any reason to behave overly emotively in business. It always cost you more than you gain. A lot of people, however, cannot disassociate themselves emotionally from their work. They react to an insult the same way they would react if it happened in their living room.

  4. “…there is never any reason to behave overly emotively in business.”

    “It always cost you more than you gain”

    Lawyers should have these tattooed on the back of their right and left hands.

  5. There are some customers who are better left to your competition. Such customers consume the resources they don’t pay for rather than the products and services you charge for. Let them consume your competition’s resources.

  6. Sometimes you don’t need to burn a bridge – you need to artfully nuke it in such a way that all of the highly unethical, shark-like individuals in the greater environment take note that the costs of endangering your career to further their own ain’t worth it.

    Do this once every 7-10 years. After the second time you are a workplace legend are rarely require a third example.

  7. I have ton of examples of my own, being in the profession that by definition is a buffer; simultaneously I’m a client (or a bridge to clients), and a service provider to my clients.

    But they would only confirm the conclusions I find in the post and thread.

    Highly instructive, thank you guys.

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