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Vendors never call back. Accept it.

Follow-through doesn't just mean tracking issues. Follow-through is about results. A co-worker of mine couldn't understand why his boss was unhappy with his performance when a project was delayed because a vendor hadn't returned a call placed two weeks ago. It wasn't his fault that the vendor hadn't called back, right?

There's actually a magic question you can ask to assure the vendor is following through.

Vendors depend on satisfied customers so they are motivated to call you back, right? That's not how the world works: You can't assume that a vendor will call back. You have to take responsibility for a project's timely completion:

  • Call them once a day until you connect. Call every day. Don't wait for them to take the intiative.
  • Call them early in the morning. If you reach them early in the day, they can spend the rest of the day working their bureaucracy to get you the answer or results you need. If you call them at the end of the day, then your request gets forgotten by morning.
  • Log that you've called them in your PDA/PAA.
  • Always leave voicemail. Without leaving a message, it's the same as not calling. You need to leave physical (or virtual) proof that you called. You don't have to be original each time. Simply say, "This is [Your name here]. Please call me at [your phone number]. I need [status update | whatever] about [project]. Thank you."

Another tip: The order isn't "in" until they can tell me a shipper's tracking number and/or delivery date.

I've been stung many times by vendors that were late to ship something. "Oh, I'd been sitting on this order for a week because there was a form you need to fax me." Why didn't you tell me? Don't these people work on commission? Have they found some magical business model that not shipping a product makes them money?

The wrong question to ask, and I know this because I used it unsuccessfully for years, is "Do you need anything else from me?" Silly me. I thought that a highly motivated salesperson would take this opportunity to finish the deal so he could get commission. The problem is that people don't want to feel that they are making work you so they think they are being polite by answering "no" to this question. After being told there was nothing more for me to do, many times I've called back a week later only to find out there is some credit approval issue, or design sign-off, or contract to be signed, and so on.

Therefore when it seems like everything is done, I ask the magic question: "Can you tell me what date it will arrive?" Suddenly it clicks in the salesperson's brain to tell me that the product isn't available until next spring, or that while I've filled out the credit application, he hasn't submitted it to their finance department. (These are all real examples).

Once I get a delivery date, the question changes to, "Can you give me a tracking number?" That's the real proof that the order hasn't hit any snags. For important projects I call every day until I receive a tracking number: Always in the morning. Always leaving a polite message if I receive someone's voicemail box.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

1 Comment

Yes, Yes, Yes! Three thumbs up to all of the above. Excellent advice. And here's more:

Vendors have secretaries. Sometimes it's one who supports ten people, but most of the time there is someone administrative responsible for supporting someone technical or in sales or... In addition to the excellent voicemail advice above, there's nothing wrong with calling the admin who supports your non-responsive vendor. If you have ANYTHING in writing from the vendor (and if you desperately need to reach him, let's hope some paper has flown between you by now) the admin's initials are at the end, usually next to those of the vendor you're trying to reach. (ex: VV/aa)

When given the "return to operator" option in your non-responsive vendors voicemail system, exercise it and ask for the admin who supports so-and-so. At this time, you may be presented with several choices. The initials on your documents will (likely) match those of someone whose name the receptionist just gave you.

Transfer to that person. Speak with her/him in person. It's possible you'll hear some totally rational, non-broadcastable explanation followed by some information about what is being done to cover an absence/job opening/vacation/whatever. Grab that lead by the horns and go where it takes you. If you DON'T get an explanation, you may at least leave word requesting a return call with another source of your vendor's business messages. At the very least, it's another set of eyes watching your best interests from the other end of the field.