February '19

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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2 0 1 9 F E B R U A R Y P R I N T W E A R 1 3 about quality, don't bury your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. Put it on the agenda and discuss it candidly. When you solicit agenda items before- hand and publish them, you are less likely to be hit with a topic that you are ill pre- pared to handle. Be sure to include the top- ics you want to address, such as projected orders for next year. It will make your forecasting and budgeting much easier. Next, agree on a date, location, and duration for the business review. Be sure all invitees con- firm their availability and par- ticipation. If any can't make it, explain that this is an important planning session and each per- son's contribution is vital, then reschedule the business review for a time everyone can make it. You may want to include a cover letter with the published agenda outlining the purpose of the review. Emphasize that the business review is a communication tool and that 75 percent of the input at the meeting should come from the customer contingency. You should prepare many thought-provoking questions and be prepared to present inno- vative solutions, but your main role in this is to listen and listen well. PREPARING FOR A BUSINESS REVIEW Although you may think a customer rais- ing numerous concerns is the making of a bad business review, remember, at least that person cares enough about the business partnership to vent their frustration at the review. Better the customer does that and gives you a chance to correct the problem than to sit there, say nothing, and then fire you two weeks later. "Anticipate the worse and hope for the best" is a realistic attitude when planning for a business review. Composing a list of questions that begin with "how" and "why" usually elicit the most useful information. You may even solicit the perspective of your col- leagues and "role play" the review ahead of time. You could write down the toughest question or comment and have someone raise it during your role play. Better to awkwardly field a sensitive issue during practice than in the real thing. Do your homework. Assemble the necessary documentation you'll need to support your viewpoint, but don't do so from a defensive posture. Better to have your facts straight and not need them than to be caught without having your "ducks in a row." If your company has made mistakes, admit to them and show good faith to correct them in a timely manner. If you are going to use audio-visual aids during the review, be sure equipment is available and in good working order. Live dem- onstrations should be well rehearsed and practiced to minimize the possibility of surprises. Regardless, have a contingency plan on all possible things that could go wrong. DURING THE REVIEW Much like exhibiting at a trade show, the success of the business review lies in the preparation. Once it's "showtime," you should look forward to the experience. Relax and listen intently to the meaning behind the words the customer shares with you. Observe body language and tonal inflection. Empathize with the customer by taking in their perspective on the circumstances. Have someone other than yourself take minutes of the review that will be tran- scribed and distributed to all attendees afterward. Your comments and replies should always be made in the most positive way possible. Ask open-ended questions to get the customer to respond freely and include significant details. Thank the customer for their candor. They are taking as much of a risk in answering your questions as you are asking them. Be sure to summarize the action assignments as a result of the decisions the review attend- ees reached. Clearly list what is to be done, by whom, and by when. Then after the review, it is your responsibility to make it happen. Give the customer periodic updates between busi- ness reviews so you build momentum and a stronger partnership. This approach to account management may seem awkward and complex, but give it a try. In my sales rep career, I found it made all the difference in keeping good customers happy year after year. Consider this. Ask yourself how many of your current vendors have proposed a business review with you. If you have had the pleasure of participating in such a meeting, and attendees did what they committed to do, I'll bet it became one of the strongest supplier- customer relationships you've ever had. Try it with a customer that is on the verge of firing you as a supplier. In that case, you'll have something to salvage and nothing to lose. Good luck! PW Vince DiCecco is a dynamic and sought-after seminar speaker and author with a unique perspective on business de- velopment and management subjects, primarily in the decorated and promotional apparel industries. With over 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, and training, he is presently an independent consultant to various apparel decorating businesses looking to improve profitability and sharpen their competitive edge. Visit his new website at, and send email to Things you should have at the ready and documented to bring to your business review: - Expectations - Success criteria - Order patterns - Invoicing

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