Social media branding consultant Mark Schaefer explains how his sales team almost lost $1.5 billion in revenue from a profitable (if problematic) client -- and how he managed to recover the account.
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That's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!
Ashley Stryker [00:00:01] Welcome to the Professional Confessional: How the biggest professional mistakes we've ever made fundamentally changed our work, our careers, and our approach forever. Gain wisdom and perspective through these audio absolutions.
Ashley Stryker [00:00:22] Today's guest is author, keynote speaker and social media branding consultant Mark Schaefer, who once had to correct a sales mistake so bad, it almost cost him a client worth $1.5 billion in revenue.
Mark Schaefer [00:00:39] Before I got into marketing, I was in sales for a big Fortune 100 company. I was a big sales leader there, and I had wanted to get into marketing. But the route to marketing at that company was, you had to pay your dues in sales first, and that really worked out pretty well.
Mark Schaefer [00:00:57] Eventually, I had a very big sales job -- the biggest sales job in the company, arguably one of the biggest sales jobs in the world. We were selling $1.5 billion worth of material to this company -- that represented 10 percent of my company's entire revenue at the time. And, I had a one line job description: Do not lose the account.
Mark Schaefer [00:01:23] Now, imagine with a job that big and a responsibility. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of stress, and little things turned into big things because the volume was so big. Even a very little thing meant a lot of money.
Mark Schaefer [00:01:39] One of the things that we were struggling with at the time was this company would cause a lot of work for us -- extra work for us -- because they would change their orders all the time when they didn't really need to. And, at the end of the month, [they would] cancel them all, even though they were basically using the same amount of material every month.
Mark Schaefer [00:01:58] So, this was really frustrating my customer service people. And so, we got on a conference call with the vice president of procurement for my customer, myself, and the customer service representative. We sort of made our case, and we had this long conversation.
Mark Schaefer [00:02:12] And, after the call was over, my customer service rep just started really venting. He just said how difficult it was to work with this company, really what an idiot this man was that we were working with, that he should have known better than that, and he was the most inept person that he ever worked with. And, oh, my gosh, how how can we ever work with this man?
Mark Schaefer [00:02:36] Shortly after we hung up, I got an email from the vice president. You probably know where this is going. He had not hung up. He said, "Look, I'm very upset. I never want to work with this other fellow again."
Mark Schaefer [00:02:47] Now, luckily, I hadn't said anything bad.
Ashley Stryker [00:02:51] Small mercy.
Mark Schaefer [00:02:52] Yeah, I hadn't I hadn't said anything bad. But he said "I'm not sure, I don't want to work with this guy anymore. I'm not sure I want to work with your company anymore." So this was an existential crisis.
Ashley Stryker [00:03:07] Of biblical proportions!
Mark Schaefer [00:03:08] Yeah. I mean, I wasn't really sure if I would be able to have a job after all of this was over. So what I did was, my company was based in in St. Louis. And so, I flew to St. Louis and got a hotel there right near this fella's office. And I wrote a handwritten note of apology and hired a courier to hand deliver this to this guy so that he would be sure to get it, so that I would knew he would get it that day.
Mark Schaefer [00:03:40] I said, "Look, you know, I'm in St. Louis. I'm I'm I'm staying right here. I know you need to cool down, but I'm going to just stay right here until you're ready to talk about it. I'm not leaving."
Mark Schaefer [00:03:53] And so, you know, basically, after two days, he cooled down, we're able to have lunch and eventually talk about it. Now, I did have to change out my customer service people, but I was able to to at least save the day in terms of the account.
Ashley Stryker [00:04:09] Thank God. I was wondering if if if he would have called for your head on a pike as well as your service rep. Did you know why why you got spared that particular ax, or was it just because you didn't say anything on the call?
Mark Schaefer [00:04:24] Well, I think it was because I didn't say anything on the call. You know, I can't... I can't even remember the specifics because it was one of those sort of throwaway conversations. I mean, it's not like I was keeping notes that this guy was just venting. But, I was pretty sure I hadn't said anything bad.
Mark Schaefer [00:04:46] But I think the lesson is that you really have to be you always have to be on. I mean, you really always have to be on in business. And, everything you do and everything you don't do becomes part of your brand. Especially in this world of social media, there are no secrets anymore. Anything can be documented. Anything can be recorded. You just have to remember that you're always on -- your brand is always on -- no matter what you do.
Ashley Stryker [00:05:14] But what happens when you have a right to be frustrated? How do you reconcile that particular issue with the need to always be aware that your customer service face always has to be on?
Mark Schaefer [00:05:25] Well, in the real world, sometimes you can resolve it and sometimes you can't. I mean, in this case, eventually we were able to resolve that problem because I was able to present them with data to show how much money it was costing us, and indirectly it was costing them, because we've got to pass along those costs in some way.
Mark Schaefer [00:05:49] But, a lot of times in business, it just gets down to this: sometimes you're in a situation where there's a vast inequity in in power. The stakes are really high. And sometimes, you have to swallow your pride.
Mark Schaefer [00:06:05] You've got two choices: You can stop what you're doing and quit, or you can just swallow your pride and keep on going.
Mark Schaefer [00:06:13] And in a case like that, I mean, there have been lots of cases in business where customers have been unfair. They've judged me or my company incorrectly or harshly, and you can address that as you can. But at the end of the day, if the stakes are high and you can't really afford to leave that customer, you just you just keep going.
Ashley Stryker [00:06:34] So would the solution then be to... Let's just say, for your average entrepreneur or individual who is responsible for accounts, right? Is part of the solution to diversify beyond one major account so that no account is ever so vital to a company? Or is that always going to be a feature no matter how big or small you get?
Ashley Stryker [00:06:55] I remember I was working at a creative agency and half of the business that was brought in -- in multiple millions of revenue -- was from a single DOD contract that I had been hired to work on. And, part of their quarterly evaluation was to show us the ways in which they were diversifying. But that one client for my entire tenure there -- to this day, as far as I know -- made up a huge portion of of their revenue, so they couldn't afford to get rid of that client.
Ashley Stryker [00:07:22] So, is that always going to be an issue no matter how big you get? Or, should you try and diversify so that no one client does hold you hostage like that?
Mark Schaefer [00:07:30] Well, I think the most important thing in business is chemistry: the people who you work with, the people who you work for. Sometimes, you have customers where the chemistry is great. They become your friends and you will go to the ends of the earth for them. Sometimes, you have a customer who you really don't like and you just kind of do the minimum because that's your job and you're a professional.
Mark Schaefer [00:07:55] Ideally, you would be able to make a choice and surround yourself with people who have a good chemistry, who can become your friends, who you can have rational discussions with. Sometimes, though -- especially when you're just starting out, if you're a startup -- you really don't have that choice. When you're a startup, basically, you need to say yes to anybody who's going to give you money. You're just, realistically speaking, can't be too idealistic. At least I haven't been able to be too idealistic at the start of different things.
Mark Schaefer [00:08:32] When people want to give you money, you just say, "Yes," because you've got to pay the bills and you know, you can worry about the chemistry later. I mean, the chemistry is important, but a lot of people just don't have that luxury early in their business or early in their careers. I mean, that's just practically speaking.
Mark Schaefer [00:08:50] I think there's a lot about, you know, living your best life. And if you can dream it, you can believe it. And if you can believe it, you can achieve it. But, you know, the fact of the matter is, sometimes you have to work with difficult people because you have to pay the bills, and you have to do what you need to do to to survive and keep fighting another day.
Ashley Stryker [00:09:11] So the mistake Mark had to fix was not hanging up fast enough. No, really, it was a teammate's indiscretion in choosing a bad time and place to vent about a problematic, if profitable, client -- risking the loss of 10 percent of the company's total revenue and Mark's own job.
Ashley Stryker [00:09:28] To fix the mistake, Mark took the old fashioned approach: Flying out in person, hiring a live courier to hand deliver a handwritten apology, offering to discuss the situation face to face. Ultimately, his ownership of the mistake and his prompt personal actions saved the account. Years later, Mark insists that this mistake could be even more deadly for the employer brand today who forgets that we're always on.
Ashley Stryker [00:09:54] So, you must be to swallow your pride to survive the inconvenience of a client you don't always click with -- because anything you say or do will be held against you in the court of public opinion.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:05] Today, Mark Schaffer is the executive director of Schafer Marketing Solutions, specializing in marketing strategy and social media. You can browse his decades of knowledge in half a dozen or more remarkable books on business -- I'm currently staring at my rediscovered copy of "Known" as I record this outro -- or his blog at BusinessGrow.com, that's BusinessGrow.com.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:28] And, you can find this and other episodes of the Professional Confessional podcast at PC-Podcast.com or on your preferred podcasting platform of choice.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:39] Do you want to come on and share your biggest professional mistake? Head to PC-Podcast.com/BeOurGuest to schedule your professional confessional. Again, that's PC-Podcat.com/BeOurGuest.
Ashley Stryker [00:10:55] In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear this today and share what you needed to hear in a review. The more often we read and review our favorite podcasts, more people will find out about our community and the more episodes I can make. When we reach 25 reviews, I promise will vote on a special edition deep dive into a major mistake in history that is still relevant and affects how we do business today.
Ashley Stryker [00:11:20] Anyway, that's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. Thanks again for tuning in and I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!