Written by: Steve Marks
You just never know
Email is necessary, but sometimes messages get lost in translation.
We were in the final stages of finding out if a prospect was going to buy our product — a custom cookie for a midsize national chain. It was a very large account and one that would be very important to our growth.
Several months had been spent wooing the prospect. A price was on the table and we were waiting for a response. The week when we were supposed to get a decision came and went without a word, so we called the customer and found out that the customer was struggling with a decision between an incumbent supplier and us. The decision was tough, they appreciated all our hard work but needed more time to give a final answer. While we could certainly respect that, we stewed, starting second guessing ourselves and tried to determine what we could do to tip the scales.
Mulling it over
After playing mind games with myself, I started to think we weren’t going to win the business. I decided to look at the pricing again to see if there was any room for a reduction. To my surprise, a few raw materials had gone down in price since our first quote, meaning we could cut about 5 percent and still maintain our standard gross profit margin. I reasoned that if the prospect was debating switching to us, a price reduction of this magnitude, which would save the prospect several hundred thousand dollars through the course of the year, would surely tip the scales.
I pushed our sales team to react. We crafted an email explaining our position and offered a new price. I was relieved after making that maneuver and felt we did all we could — a job well done.
A few days later we got the call from the prospect informing us that the incumbent would get the business. Astonishingly, our price maneuver worked against us. The prospect said this 9th-inning tactic was unprofessional and could not be condoned. Our email was viewed completely different than our intent.
Email, with all its simplicity and efficiency, has its faults. It can’t convey the whole message — the right tone, emotion and intent. It was seen as an act of desperation.
Reflecting on the situation, I wonder what we should have done differently? It seems the biggest mistake was not talking directly to the prospect about the price change. We could have probed the prospect a bit about the decision, asked if price was a factor or if there was anything else we could do to win the business?
In retrospect, the email was impersonal and could have been read a bunch of different ways. Even though it was extremely difficult to get the prospect on the phone, we should have persevered in this direction. However, I am still amazed at the prospect’s reaction. One thing is for sure, you just never know how someone is thinking.