Here’s What Not To Do.

We've all been's what you take away from the experience that counts.We’ve all been there.  It’s what you take away from the experience that counts.

It’s nice when we can admit our mistakes right?

One of my heroes once said, “Taking 100% personal responsibility is the highest form of human maturity.”

This is the story of my most recent failure.  If you learn from it, it will all be worth it to me.

I confess, I’ve known the lesson contained in this post for a long time…and I STILL made the mistake…it can happen to the best of us.


“We’d like you to design a box for us.” My good friend and potential future client told me on a phone call.

“Great!  What are you trying to accomplish?”

We made a plan to meet at his business the next day to discuss his goals with the new project, and how this box would support their efforts.

A couple days later I am at the account meeting with 2 key people:

1.) My good friend, the company’s sales manager, and the pioneer of this particular project.

2.) The company’s Director of Marketing.  Great guy…easy to work with.

During the first meeting and then one follow up meeting about a week later, we got the whole project squared away.  We discussed every detail to make sure we got it right: the look, the feel, and the materials we would need to use to make sure the final result was perfect.

It was a true collaborative effort to make the perfect box to accomplish their goals.

Unfortunately, I made one HUGE error:

I failed to ask if there was anyone else involved in the process of getting this project done.

I assumed(huge mistake) that because the Director of Marketing was on board, as well as my friend, the head of sales(who spearheaded the whole project), I couldn’t lose.  I priced the box at a fair margin and submitted my proposal.

I got a text from my friend the next day.  The owner of the company LOVED our sample.  He was totally on board.  This thing is going great.  The project is going to result in a $30 savings PER unit shipped…including the cost of my box.  Money in the bank right?  Win win win!


I have one more character to add to this story: the VP of Operations.  This guy has been there for more than 20 years.  It turns out he gets involved with a good number of the new projects they undertake.  Not all…but he can whenever he wants.

He also has a well developed relationship with the current box supplier.

I hope you can see where this is going.

The order is about to be placed with me….and the VP of Ops says, “Wait a minute?  Have we not even offered this project to our current supplier?”

This guy’s clout means that is going to happen…after all…it is a reasonable thing to do right?

The VP asks the current supplier to come in.  We will hereafter refer to the other supplier as “golden retriever.”  Golden retriever is told to quote a box…aggressively or he doesn’t get the business.

Unfortunately, because I failed to include the VP of Ops in the initial collaboration, he didn’t even know what to tell golden retriever to quote(not that I wanted to give the retriever the road map).

Doubly unfortunate, golden isn’t knowledgeable enough to ask ANY questions about the style, materials, contents, etc.

The proposal that came back was at a lower cost than mine, but it wasn’t a true apples to apples comparison.  Golden retriever had no idea how to make this thing and just quoted what was (incorrectly) requested.

I found this out through a text the next day with my friend.  “Dude you’re screwed…they came back lower than you.”  I knew immediately the golden retriever didn’t do it right.

So…I should explain myself.  The reason my cost was higher was because I planned to use a material for this box that costs significantly more than the standard.  Based on the style of this box I can assure you it was absolutely necessary.  You’ll trust me right?  I know this packaging stuff 🙂

I requested a meeting the next day with the VP to explain myself.  I came equipped with samples of all the materials involved, so I could explain the difference in cost, and how it really wasn’t a difference at all if the other material would have resulted in disaster.

The meeting started with some decent personal time.  I had called on this guy several years prior so we remembered each other.  The first thing I did when we got down to business was own the fact that I was at fault for not including him in the early discussions…but that I would like to bring him up to speed with all the info.

I passionately explained that if he chose to go with what he was quoted by my competitor, he would be making a huge mistake…that the “savings” were actually a mirage, and he would be throwing approximately $7,000 in the trash when the boxes delivered looking terrible…

Now, I consider myself to be a pretty agreeable, likable guy.  I’ve been successful in sales for a long time.    I know how to get along with people.   We all know you will not get along with 100% of the people out there.   Unfortunately, this guy happened to slot into that disagreeable group.

He took my passion to make sure this thing got done right as “aggressiveness.”

Because I told him he didn’t have all the info, he took that to mean I was, “basically calling him stupid.”

I said, “No No (Name redacted) I am not saying that.  I am saying you don’t have all the information, which is actually MY fault!  That’s why I requested this meeting.”

This was where the meeting got really weird, because I really wasn’t “aggressive”…and I did not even remotely imply he was unintelligent.  Insulting a customer isn’t one of my standard plays ;p

Did you catch what really happened?

Do you think the price of the box was ever relevant?

1.)  The price issue was a smokescreen.

2.)  His overreaction and the (perceived) price disparity was a staged play to disqualify me as a vendor.

As I said earlier, the creation of this box was going to result in something like $30 dollars in verified process cost savings.  Do you think 40 cents is really that big of a deal at that point?  ESPECIALLY…when we’re talking about doing it right?

What really happened was this:

The VP was offended that he wasn’t included in the initial discussions.  Both he, and the vendor he has a relationship with, were left out of the collaboration.

I asked him if he thought I deserved last look since I designed the package and made sure they didn’t use the wrong material.  He said no.

I said, “(Name Redacted), I never had a chance in here did I?”

I wish you could have seen the smug smile on his face as he shook his head.

This wasn’t about the price…it was about justice…for going “behind” his back.

When you enter into a collaborative effort….make sure you make the effort to have all stakeholders involved….especially those that could thwart all your hard work.

A relationship with the decision maker frequently trumps skill.

Kudos to the golden retriever.    Well played.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.