On Being The Bearer Of Bad News

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For the majority of my professional career, I was plagued by two overwhelming deficiencies – I was a terrible procrastinator and whenever something went wrong with a project, anything went wrong, I was struck by a paralyzing fear and panic that precluded me from taking any meaningful action to correct it let alone bring it to my customer’s attention. Of course, my procrastination was often the cause of these issues and they also carried over to my personal life. Approximately six years ago I experienced a life-changing event and, for whatever reason, my procrastination and fear disappeared practically overnight. I really can’t explain it other than to say that it did involve a “spiritual awakening”. The benefits soon became apparent in many ways.

Prior to this, if something went haywire with a project, I was consumed with: “How and what do I tell my customer?” “Will I lose the deal?” “Will they yell at me!?” My fears were generally far in excess of reality, however, there were a number of major opportunities that I had to literally scramble in order to salvage. The worst part of all remained my fear, the panic, and my paralyzation.

I’ve learned some important lessons these last few years ….

  • Don’t put off to tomorrow that which you can get done today because, sure as “Murphy” made a law, something is going to pop up tomorrow and bite your plans in the ass. Get ahead where possible and stay ahead!
  • If you call a client with bad news right away, and are prepared with a plan to rectify the matter, they NEVER yell at you. In fact, they LOVE you! If they find out about t from someone else, and bring it to YOUR attention (and you already knew about it), the reverse is universally true.

Being the bearer of bad news yields other rewards …

  • You have demonstrated to the client that you are a stand-up guy or gal and that you are prepared to act quickly to correct whatever it is that needs correcting.
  • The question every customer has, particularly in a long-term relationship, is …  “Everything is great now. What happens when something goes wrong?” Sure as night is black, something will go wrong at sometime. You have answered that question. In fact, had the problem never occurred in the first place, this question would remain unanswered. Now they know what to expect as your relationship moves forward and that relationship is stronger than ever. Provided, of course, that the problem has been taken care of in a timely and satisfactory manner.

About four or five years ago, and this was in the sign business, I was successful in securing an initial order with a sizable regional bank. Our first project was not huge but it was somewhat complex and out of town. Part of their sign package included a sandblast decorated granite plaque which was ordered by the customer from a third-party vendor and was then shipped to us for installation. On the day of the install I got a call from the job site that, when the crate was opened, the plaque was found to be broken in two. Dohhhhhh!

Immediately, the finger pointing began. “It was probably shipped to us that way or was cracked to begin with!”  The fingers were soon put away.  As it turned out, not only did we step up to the plate, we created an opportunity. There was no reason that we could not build these plaques ourselves, at a competitive price, without the need to ship, and the customer would have a single source from which to order their entire sign packages. The customer loved that idea too! I was in a stronger position than ever before and this resulted in a continuous relationship and several $100,000 worth of orders until I decided to retire from that business.

The long and short of this is, if you want to build stronger relationships with ANYBODY, business or personal … if there is bad news to be had, you’d better be the one bearing it.  Simple.

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Author: Craig M. Jamieson

Craig M. Jamieson is a lifelong B2B salesperson, manager, owner, and a networking enthusiast. Adaptive Business Services provides solutions related to the sales professional including Boise's best B2B leads groups, NetWorks! Boise Valley. We are a Nimble SCRM and a HootSuite Solution Partner and a Value Added Associate for TTI Performance Systems. Craig also conducts training and workshops primarily in social selling.