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Help! My Firm Can't Deliver the Goods!

The worst thing about B2B sales is that sometimes you've got to take the heat for your firm's inability to deliver on time or as promised. A reader writes:

Geoffrey, can you help me with this situation? I sell for a software and consulting firm. We had a big project with ...a big customer but our integrators couldn't get the system up and running it the time frame we promised. I had to tell the customer that it would be months before they had their system. I was on the hot seat, but the delivery schedule was completely out of my control. What should I say/do?
That's a tough one, because you're already in the midst of the mess. Here are five rules to avoid getting in that situation in the first place and what to do when you find yourself in it:
  • RULE #1: Don't over-sell or over-promise. Let's be honest here. When companies can't deliver it's often because the sales rep has made commitments that required a series of best-case events. While it's a mistake to confuse selling with installing, don't forget that installing will take place sooner or later.
  • RULE #2: Build clear communication lines. You always want to be the FIRST person to know if something is going to go wrong. Never the LAST, and absolutely never the person who finds out FROM THE CUSTOMER that a problem has cropped up. Cultivate contacts in your company who'll give a heads-up when needed.
  • RULE #3: Keep tabs on critical deliveries. If a delivery is REALLY important to a client, part of your follow-up is to ensure that the delivery in question will happen, on time and on budget. Even if your company has a fabulous track record, things can sometimes go wrong. Don't let it happen on your watch.
  • RULE #4: Take responsibility. If your customer is angry with your company, you need own up that you -- as the company's representative -- are responsible for the error, and then do your best to make amends. If you explain how badly you feel, the customer might still buy after he or she has had a chance to vent.
  • RULE #5: Don't assume it's over. While the customer may be angry at you or your firm, don't give up on the relationship. Your product may still be required for their business and may still be a better value than your competitors' products, so you may still be well positioned for future orders from that customer.
READERS: Any other suggestions?
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