"The Devil's in the Details"
Details make us successful 6/18/2019 | Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, Cliff's Notes
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Salespeople often times hurt themselves by rushing around trying to sell, market, enter orders, follow-up, and invoice. It can be overwhelming.  Some tend to send things out and fail to review the details of an order, proof, and art files, all to ensure complete accuracy. This process leads to mistakes – costly mistakes in many cases. There are issues on both sides though. Suppliers may forget to read through the entire order, not ask the right questions, promise ship dates that cannot be met, say there’s inventory when there’s not, and the list goes on.

What does the saying “The devil is in the details” mean? According to wiseGEEK, “…all of the meanings for the term boil down to the fact that it is often the small details of something difficult or challenging. These details can prolong a task, or foil an otherwise straightforward dealing…” This industry, more than any other I have worked in, requires the most scrutiny to detail. One miss step can be the difference between success and bankruptcy.  I was listening to a friend of mine who made an error in a quote and was frustrated that the client wasn’t more sympathetic to his plight. The client was ready to move forward, but when he went back and said he had misquoted, the client was reluctant to do the order. This certainly happens, but should we expect the client to eat the mistake? I don’t believe so - would you?

I see this often-  folks are reluctant to hold themselves accountable for their own mistakes. I’ve heard “…my assistant made the mistake; the factory should have caught that, or I have done so much for them, why they can’t understand…?” I know the pain of having to eat mistakes, I’ve had my fill over the years; but when I look back, I’m forced to ask, ‘What can I take away from this mistake? How can improve so it never happens again?”

What can we do as distributors and salespeople to ensure these issues never or rarely arise in the future? My belief revolves around having great systems in place. When I was the CEO of Headwear USA, one of the things we did to mitigate mistakes was to have checkpoints with every shipment. It went like this:

  1. 1. We knew our inventory extremely well. Each day we ran an inventory report that each staff member had at their desk and inventory was updated in real time.

  2. 2. When a SKU ran low and reached our predetermined par-level, an order was immediately created and forwarded to China so they could begin working on the job immediately. This happened all through the day, we didn’t wait till days end.

  3. 3. When an order was taken (we required an email or fax from the distributor to place the order), the job ticket was then sent to the back where the warehouse would pick against the ticket.

  4. 4. The job was QC’d and checked by someone other than the person picking the order, generally the person doing the shipping.

  5. 5. Once placed in the UPS system and packed, the ticket was then checked by billing before it was sent out.

  6. 6. All orders picked and shipped that day were billed out THAT DAY, no exceptions. 

  7. 7. Inventory was reconciled at the end of the day, and when the next day we began, we were ready to go.

With these checks and balances, we incurred fewer mistakes along the way. At each stage we had sign-offs to identify problems and adjust, to avoid any reoccurrence. Knowing where the issue stemmed also allowed us to train the person at the root level to avoid future challenges.

This excerpt from wiseGEEK© further validates why we did this, “…people who routinely sign such agreements [proofs] usually learn to look them over very carefully, looking for a snag or issue which ultimately makes the deal untenable…”  Ultimately, we created simple systems that aided us in minimizing failures, and we held folks accountable.

What systems do you have in place to ensure issues are minimized issues on your end? One of my mentors, Peter Barblett from The Headwear Stockists Group in AU, said, “If we create a system and do it the same way one-hundred times and on the one-hundred and first time we don’t do it correctly, then the first one hundred times didn’t matter…”  At the time I didn’t appreciate those words, but I hear myself repeating it over and over to myself as I have progressed through my career – that, my friends, is accountability!

So, what can we do as distributors and salespeople to ensure we minimize errors? Here is a checklist to consider. You may have more to add and I would relish hearing what you have to say.

  • Pick good suppliers. There are many out there and some not so good. Use the different services that ASI and PPAI provide and ask colleagues who they recommend and why.

  • Slow down.

  • Get all the information you possibly need from the client and supplier to ensure you have everything so the order flows smoothly.

  • DO NOT GUESS or ASSUME! Create a checklist if needed.

  • Send a complete order to the supplier to include:

    • Item number

    • Quantity

    • Complete description that compliments what it says in their catalog

    • Actual (not fabricated) shipping and event dates

    • Shipping method, carrier, UPS/FedEx number if applicable

    • Net Costs

    • ALL applicable set-up and ancillary costs

    • Ship to

    • Special Instructions

    • Artwork, in a file format they can use

  • Communicate clearly with your clients and vendors.

  • Write things down. Keep the string of conversations with each order including times, dates, who you spoke with and what was said and promised.

  • Deal with issues immediately, up front, with purpose.

  • When an issue arises HAVE ALL THE FACTS before going in half-cocked.

  • Communicate calmly and professionally at every turn.

During my tenure, I have arbitrated hundreds of situations- some easy and some very complex. Mostly, I came away with win-win-win resolutions. I know this: it’s critical to have all the details before trying to rectify a situation. I believe the person with the most reliable details will ultimately be the one that prevails. If we all take the time to do GREAT work, slow down, and became committed to the details, we would see fewer issues, better productively, and higher profits. Doing this will create a win-win-win scenario for everyone.

Until Next Month, remember, “The Devil Is in the Details” - Continued Good Selling - CQ

Cliff is the Director of Marketing for iPROMOTEu, additionally and for over 30 years, Cliff has been speaking, training and consulting internationally to associations and national business groups on more effective ways to market themselves, their products and services, as well as motivating their personnel. Recognized by PPAI for his creativity, he has won the prestigious PPAI Pyramid award 27 times and the Printing Industry's PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity 5 times in three years. He has also received PPAI's Ambassador Speaker of the Year Award six consecutive years and was the inaugural recipient of PPAI's Distinguished Service Award. Named one of top six industry speakers and trainers, he also was recognized by PPAI in the book, "PPAI at 100," as having a significant influence in education. He has also been recognized by Counselor Magazine as one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the Promotional Products Industry. Cliff’s BLOG 30 Seconds to Greatness won the Award for Most Passed Around Content in 2016. In December, Cliff will be launching his third book, 30 Seconds to Greatness along with a workbook. Connect with him on LinkedIn or via email at cquicksell@ipromoteu.com

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