This article was originally published in Auctioneer Magazine, April 2014. Used by permission of the National Auctioneers Association.
By Carl Carter, APR
Let’s talk about “that seller.” The one who nitpicks everything you do and micromanages the marketing campaign for his upcoming auction.
Or “that bidder.” The one who shows up without meeting the requirements to register for a sale. Or who pays no attention to the terms and conditions, then balks at the buyer’s premium. Or who bids recklessly, then wants to retract his bid.
Maybe it’s “that agent,” or “that vendor.” You know the one I’m talking about. The one who seems to be begging for a piece of your mind, if not a lawsuit. The one who gets under your skin in a way that makes you want to scream – or, at the least, fire off a hot email.
And listen to the words of counsel I received decades ago from a respected mentor: The Relationship Comes First.
I’ve received a lot of public relations advice over the years, but none better than that. It’s some of the hardest advice to take, because it runs counter to our basic instinct, our pride, and our desire to appear strong and inconsistent. We fear being perceived as weak, or losing the respect of our associates, our clients or others. We worry about setting a precedent that allows others to run all over us.
People around us see what’s happening and tell us not to take it lying down. When this happens, keep in mind that the people goading you probably aren’t going to have to deal with the reputation damage. Their names aren’t involved. Yours is.
And don’t get me wrong: There are times when you have to deal with a difficult person – or a problem – head-on. Sometimes you may even have to go to court. You have to get paid for your work and protect yourself from thieves, cons and deadbeats. There are people with whom you can’t have a relationship.
Putting the relationship first simply means that you make a serious effort to resolve problems in a way that makes a future relationship with the other person possible. It’s largely a matter of counting the costs and benefits of a confrontation:
The potential revenue from continuing business with the person.
The risk of losing that person’s business – and possibly the business of others in his or her sphere of influence. (Keep in mind, in these days of social media, an unhappy customer can do a lot of damage.)
The potential expenses for collection costs, court costs or lawyers.
The possible reputation damage resulting from a flap or a lawsuit.
Remember that if you get drawn into a public fight, your reputation will be hurt even if you turned out to be right. And a year from now, nobody will remember or care who was right and who was wrong. What they’ll remember is the stink, and it sticks to you.
Now that we have to deal with social media and the Internet, that can happen in particularly annoying and troubling ways. An unsuccessful bidder at an auction suggests that he was treated unfairly, suggesting that maybe the auction company did something underhanded. A reporter or blogger writes a negative article. Court documents get into Google’s search engines. Before you know it, people who search on your firm are seeing negative stories. Sure, you can explain them to those who ask. But what about the ones who don’t ask? The ones who called another auctioneer instead?
If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way: How many times have you shied away from doing business with somebody because there were question marks about their character or business practices? You can’t put your finger on it, but you heard or read something.
Others are doing the same thing. Play it smart, and put the relationship first whenever possible.