Morgan (Host): Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of client horror stories. I’m excited to have here, Will Haire, who just told me a moment ago that he had a crazy story involving a breakdown, and those are the best. Let’s jump right in! Will, it’s great to have you on.
Will (Interviewee): Excellent! Yeah, Morgan, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be part of your PPC group, and it’s been just great. You know, mind trust if you will, a lot of information was shared, and when you were looking for other agency owners who have some horror stories, I had one that immediately came to mind because anybody who’s done a little bit of time in the game you know.
You don’t always know you have a bad client until you have the bad client and you kind of go through that horrifying process. And I will tell you that there are definitely some red flags in this story, and if I go through the sales process or any point, we start to see these red flags. Generally, we think that’s a great opportunity to recommend them to one of our competitors so if somebody has to fail it’s going to be them.
Morgan (Host): But this is great! Let’s articulate the red flags as we know in some parts of the story more, or perhaps at the end. And by the way, I love your strategy, and I never thought of it before, like recommending likely horror clients to your competitors.
Will (Interviewee): It’s definitely the way to go about it because there’s nothing worse like, I don’t like a lot of young agency owners thinks that it’s all about that revenue, but you’ll learn your lots of hours or worse are not worth it, and it’s better to take that time and invest in yourself and find the right client than it is to take on a B.S. client. So anyway, let’s dive into my story.
Morgan (Host): Let’s do it!
Will (Interviewee): As an agency, we sold Amazon as a service. We had this particular person that came in through our website. He was a beauty brand, and he was from Israel. He penetrated the Israeli market, and he had some sales going on, but he really wanted a piece of that U.S. market. And it’s not uncommon for people to come to us looking to launch and use Amazon as the beta to see if their products are worth investing in us. So that was the premise we went on when we started this engagement.
So off the gecko, it started off great. There was a website; we had a conversation; I talked about our lunch budget, talked about our process, and shared some case studies. The guy was like, “Great! I got to talk to my partners, but I think we’re gonna move forward.” They pulled up all the references and then signed the contract to pay the invoice. So at that time, it sounded pretty great, and I didn’t know what was going on. After that, we had the kickoff call. So our process is that I bring on our project manager, who kind of handles the project, and then the team takes over, and we start to work through our deliverables essentially. And when we had the kickoff call, I was the sales guy, so I’ll be on the kickoff call the entire time.
However, before we had the kickoff call, I prep-talked the project manager and told him, “Hey, I’ve been talking to this guy, and here’s the rundown. Here’s what they’re looking for, and here’s the KPIs they’re stressing, you know, the floor is yours essentially.” So in this particular case, this was the first red flag of this story. On this call, the business partner actually showed up, and it was a video call. The business partner was loud, obnoxious, had no idea what the heck was going on, he didn’t even realize he paid for our services that he signed off on with his other business partner.
He took the video call while driving his automobile, so he was distracted and only half-listening. And then he perceived the pullover during this kickoff call, hopped out of the car, and just aggressively paced up a data block. I didn’t really know what he was doing, and he was just asking a bunch of questions.
Morgan (Host): Hold on, hold on, hold on. I want to dive into that incredible list because there are like a dozen red flags on that scene. I want to clarify this one point. He was the business partner, but he didn’t sign off? So there was another business partner who signed on it, and he just had zero context?
Will (Interviewee): Yeah, he had zero context, and he just showed up on the call. He wasn’t even on the calendar invite.
Morgan (Host): So I just want to articulate for the younger agency owners who are listening. The one red flag there is if one business partner already signed off and the other one shows up, but he/she doesn’t have any context about what’s going on, that tells us that those business partners aren’t talking to each other or aren’t talking in a healthy way.
Also, business partners who are not talking at all or in a healthy way, that alone is a serious red flag already. Second, what I want to point out from that scene is that taking a call from a car, which has become more acceptable lately, so it’s likely not a red flag may be a light yellow flag, but it always comes off as weird to me maybe because I’m getting old that it feels like they’re not actually really paying attention. Do you have that same feeling Will?
Will (Interviewee): We do have the same feeling Morgan, I do think that it’s rude to take calls on the road because I think that they should respect the person’s time. That’s my opinion; obviously, sometimes you have to answer some calls while you are driving. If somebody brings it up, “Hey, something came up. I had to take this call on the road.” Usually, most of our clients will let us know ahead of time.
I happen to think it’s rude because most of my clients will at least give us the respect of being in front of the computer because generally, we have a calling engine running through a document. We’re also working with a lot of money, so generally, these people are pretty engaged. So that is a red flag, and that’s a good call.
Morgan (Host): Perfect, okay, so these red flags came upon this call, and then what happened?
Will (Interviewee): Yeah, so my project managers were looking at me, and they were like, “Oh my god, Will, what have we just got ourselves into?” But you know, the project manager was really good at de-escalating the situation. We broke down the deliverables because we have an onboarding deck, and we essentially hashed through the deliverables of the contract.
So once he calmed down and we kind of went through our normal song and dance, we were good. And you know, we broke from the meeting, and then we kind of started our process. We went through a keyword research process, optimizing the campaigns, approving, listing, so on and so forth. Some time went by, and we started to see another red flag. The guy who was kind of out on his own, he actually was the business owner. So while he had a partner, he was the majority of the business owner.
Morgan (Host): The one that was in the car was the majority one?
Will (Interviewee): Yeah, the one that was in the car was the majority business owner. And what we learned essentially was that this particular person was very difficult to work with. So he started to use our project manager as his confidant, and he was just talking smack about his two other business partners a lot, and he would CC us.
He was CC’ing us on his emails, and it got to a point where we were part of the entire conversation, and he started to get kind of rude, where he essentially fired his business partners and took over. So over the course of three months, which is our normal period to get everything to the point where products are on Amazon, we went from working with this team to him firing the entire team and us working with this wacko is essentially what happened.
Morgan (Host): Wait, wait, hold on! This is all gold, and this is great!
Will (Interviewee): We don’t work with people like this anymore, to be clear.
Morgan (Host): Sounds like a great move. So there are a couple of parts to unpack there that I think are good to call out attention to. On the positive side, it speaks very highly of your project manager that he or she turned into his confidant because a good part of a good business relationship is building trust, and when they’re completely open with you, then you can really understand what’s happening.
So whoever your project manager is, I want to hire her, and you did a good job hiring her. But what’s also interesting is that him talking smack to her about his business partners, that’s a subtle red flag as well. Because what a younger version of me thought, is that they say, Well, when I hear people I work with speaking terribly with others, a younger version of me would think, “Wow, I’m so confident, and I’m so good. He’s very happy with my work, I am doing a great job, and I’m not like those people.” But what experience has taught me is that when someone is obnoxious and insulting about this person, this person, or this person, it always turns to you every single time. So him talking smack about the others is another huge red flag.
Will (Interviewee): That’s really funny because that’s something, I remember going through it myself, and I asked the project manager about when he was on in his good graces; what is he saying behind our backs? Is he not happy with us, and if he’s going to do this, you know? And the project manager replied, “We’re business partners, we’re building chemistry, but it’s still a working relationship. You know, I don’t know him like we’re going out and getting drinks.”
Morgan (Host): By the way, I like your way of saying, “If he’s talking about other people behind their back, what’s he saying behind our back?” Which is a risk factor that comes up when you hear people talk negative things to others behind their backs. As a side note, I’ll tell you how I deal with it or what I do about it. I have a rule where sometimes I need to talk negatively about people.
Like someone’s being competent, or there’s a problem, and you need to solve it, and my rule of thumb is that I only talk negatively about people when I first look at them in the eye and say it directly to them. Like then, I think that is how you bring it into the open and how you solve it. It might be negative and hard, but at least it avoids this problem of secretly whispering.
Will (Interviewee): I would say that’s a big thing for me from a learning perspective. You know, if we’re talking about learning opportunities as somebody who owns an agency, I liked to be, just a personality trait, I like to be light, generally, not as confrontational as I would like to be. What I learned over time is that you have to be direct, and you have to be confrontational for you to run a business.
And to your point, what I found was that I used to beat around the bush when I gave people critiques. Not that it was behind their back, but it was more like a passive-aggressive way of letting out your frustrations, and seeing what I’ve learned on your method is like now I get on a video call, we’re all remote, they have their camera on, I look at them in the face and I say, “This is where you guys are falling short and I always share some examples.”
What I found is that it resulted in a much better response, they know what they’re doing wrong, and it’s documented. That was a big thing for me for my personality, and I’m a lot better with it now, and it’s actually built my confidence as a leader and somebody who runs an agency. Solid advice Morgan, agreed!
Morgan (Host): Great! Now with that learning shared, let’s get back on track to the story. What happens next?
Will (Interviewee): So he slowly fired all his partners, and then it’s just us essentially. So the reason I bring up some Amazon stuff, I kind of have to explain to you how Amazon, so that you would understand how exactly got to the situation we got into. So there are multiple types of sellers who sell on marketplaces, and the sellers we work with are brand owners. They’re trademarked, and they own the brand.
And it’s just a different set of strategies that goes into building a brand presence on Amazon versus a reseller who wholesale arbitrage like it’s just a different strategy, and there’s nothing wrong with either type of business. My business happens to serve as a brand, and it’s just what we specialize in. It’s part of the sales process, so when I have this conversation with the point of contact, when we get initial sales, the first thing to be brought up are these questions: “Are you the brand owner? is something trademarkable about your brand that we’re going to be able to get brand registered and get a bunch of features on Amazon that help us sell a munch product?”
And they were like, “Yes, we have all that.” They did provide me with the trademark. We did go through the brand registry process, so we were good. This is something we learned about this particular type of seller was that he wasn’t directly the brand owner. He only got the letter of authorization to represent the manufacturer on Amazon in the U.S. markets. The mistake he made, and for anybody who works with manufacturers, is that he had a handshake deal with this manufacturer, and he said, “I will give you the rights.” He was an older dude, apparently, “I will give you the rights to the Amazon, just trust me.” And that’s fine because he did. He gave him a letter of action, we got the brand registered, and he went through all that.
Morgan (Host): Question. Did you know, when you started, did you think he was the brand owner?
Will (Interviewee): He made it, and he talked like he was the manufacturer until this issue came up.
Morgan (Host): I see!
Will (Interviewee): We had the letter of authorization, but where the gap is and what people will learn is that if the manufacturer doesn’t put that into the contracts he has with other wholesalers that they are not allowed to sell on other marketplaces, and they have to respect net pricing, then it’s not worth it because he can do the handshake deal to this other seller, which he did in Miami, and the guy was like, “Yeah, sure. I’m not gonna sell on it.” He just knew he had to make money, so we cleaned up the listings, we were doing advertising, so this guy’s starting to see, “Oh, man, there’s sell traffic on some of these products that I can’t flip online. I’m gonna jump on the Amazon wagon.” So that ended up being an issue, and we misrepresented who he was.
We could kind of work with a brand like this, but we had to get this reseller off. So this is where things started to escalate. Our point of contact, as you can tell, is not exactly a stable person. He’s very young, and he was very immature. One thing we learned that a caveat at what happened is that your partners directly represent your brand and how your partners speak to their vendors; how your partners portray their brands to the public is a direct representation of your business, and you choose to work together. So it’s important to keep that in mind as you’re part of these conversations, and in this particular case, the reseller started to list on our listings, and this guy lost his mind; he got irate, and he didn’t yell or disrespect anybody at BELLAVIX, but he was yelling to himself on a call. He scared the project manager, and it scared one of our marketplace specialists.
Morgan (Host): Wait, I thought you meant metaphorical, but he was literally yelling on the call and not on you?
Will (Interviewee): He was yelling, just saying stuff like, “They can’t fucking do that. This is B.S., I spent all this money on this and I got to call this guy.” My team, we don’t talk like that, and we don’t observe that type of attitude. And the marketplace specialists who were on the account, after that call, he was like, “I’m really uncomfortable, and I don’t want to work with this client anymore. We could tell we’re getting toxic towards the end.”
At the same time, part of what we do as somebody who protects the brand on Amazon, we send out cease and desist letters, we reach out, and we try to contact this seller to come to some type of agreement. So we know that this guy has an exclusive like to the manufacturer, and I CC the brand on all correspondence because they need to be kept in the loop. So I am a professional, and I’m saying, “Hey, we noticed you’re selling on this, and it violates this. Can you take your products down?” The guy was pretty much like, “Yeah, it’s a free country, make me!” And we’re like, “Well, we can’t, but we can buy back your inventory.” We cleared it, and he said I’d buy it back.
The guy was kind of rude to us because I’m sure he’s a reseller; he probably gets people like us pretty often. And cease and desist letters can be a little scary, so he was a little offended. We consulted a lawyer first, but we have our processes. So I called this guy, and I said, “Hey, I’m representing this company, and we need to come to some type of agreement. We are the brand owner, and we’re willing to buy back your inventory at wholesale cost. We will pay for the shipping back to Amazon. So we’ll pay for that, just sent it all over.” And the guy’s like, “Yeah, okay. Seems like a miscommunication from the manufacturer. We’re cool.” Great! That went really well.
While I had the phone call, the guy who was off balance sent an email out because he didn’t like the first email. He literally wrote in capital letters. “F.U.” He spelled out the F word. “I will not do business with you, you piece of S.” and then this is the best part. He added, “I will only buy back your inventory at half the sales price and pay for all the freight.” So he gave himself the worst deal, and he disrespected this dude. And I was like, “Oh my God, what the heck is wrong with this guy?”
Morgan (Host): Wait, hold on!
Will (Interviewee): This was the worst horror story, and we don’t want to work with people like this anymore.
Morgan (Host): I’m glad you keep on emphasizing it. So a couple of thoughts, one wow! This actually might be the worst one of these podcasts so far. The second comment I want to make is the power of controlling your emotions. Like this guy, often people do get angry at people who are screwing them and so on—but just being able to keep your composure. It just was such a long way, and it’s incredible how simultaneously at the same time, you were acting composed, and he was acting off-bounds that he saw his emotions sink the whole ship.
Will (Interviewee): And it goes to one of my life models, if you will, like “Loving-kindness will go further than revenge or inflicting pain on somebody else.” So I’ll tell you how we ended this story, but you know, keep that in mind…
Morgan (Host): Wait, wait, before the end, I have one other question. You alluded earlier to the fact that he was young. How old was he anyway?
Will (Interviewee): Yeah, we found out he was 25 when we were working together. So he was young, and he was a rich kid. I don’t know how to put that politically correct, but his dad funded the entire operation. His dad always said that he had lawyers to throw at people, so he was always threatening to sue people. I don’t wanna say he was a rich kid because there are people who come from money who do great deeds; excuse me for that. What he was is that he was entitled; that was a problem.
And you could tell he was entitled because whenever he didn’t hear what he wanted, he would blow up. That’s somebody that’s not good to work with, and he’s very volatile that way. So the team always felt like they were walking on eggshells.
Morgan (Host): So two comments on that, and then we could get to how it wraps up. My instinct is that there’s another good risk factor. I hadn’t thought about it so clearly until right now, is that working with people who are too young. Like there’s below the age that no matter how smart or good you are, you’re just too impulsive.
When I was 21, I was not nearly as similar to describe, but I would just jump at this and jump at that. However, I think it’s human. This is also the reason why political movements are run by, like, you know, college students, you know, the hippie movement, it’s all these 18-year-olds because those are these people who get emotionally into it. So I think there’s this interesting risk factor for people who are young.
Then the other point I want to call out is that entitleness is a major risk factor. So it’s interesting to see, like, how can you sense the entitleness earlier to prevent people that often being entitled is obvious until it’s too late. But if we can see that early, that’d be very useful in avoiding people like these.
Will (Interviewee): I mean, in hindsight, what we should have done from the first phone call when the partner came on and was unaware about everything was just to pause everything, redid the sales process with him so that he would be on the boat. But it would have given us an opportunity to get him out. If we know, he was as volatile as he was. I would never have even started this contract. I would have handed it to one of my competitors and said, “Good luck.”
Morgan (Host): Do you have a particular process where you can smell if someone is volatile or not? Or like how do you do that?
Will (Interviewee): We do we. Actually, we have a list of questions, and generally, we find that out. What we’ve found strategic is finding out if they work with other agencies and asking why they stopped relationships with other agencies; that’s my indirect way of finding out if they have fired three agencies in the last year or two here and a half that’s a red flag for us.
So then we put on a tax for people we think might be difficult so that we know the situation we’re getting into. We’re gonna have the proper margins, and at the end of the day, if this person is difficult to work with, we set the price for working with difficult people, because I mean, they’re going resources if they work with difficult people.
Morgan (Host): By the way, both of those are great suggestions. One basically, having a tax for people who are likely to be difficult. And secondly, if they’ve gone through multiple agencies in a short period, one agency? Okay, you may have had a bad experience. But if they have gone through three agencies in the last 12 months, the problems are probably with you, not with the agencies.
Will (Interviewee): Yeah, exactly. That’s how we kind of figured it out. And then, for the most part, you know, sometimes they get bad service, and sometimes it’s unwarranted.
Morgan (Host): Understood, so okay, what happened next? How did it turn out?
Will (Interviewee): Yeah, so it was a difficult conversation, but we had to fire him, obviously. So after I told them I was handling it from here, that’s when he sent out that email after the fact. So I said, sat it down with a conversation, and I explained to him that what he did was, was uncalled for and that as a partner, BELLAVIX represents your company as much as you represent us, and this was a poor representation of the product that we like to deliver. So we got you out of this problem, but unfortunately, we’re not gonna be able to move forward together, and it cost me money.
So we were actively doing ad campaigns and some other marketing initiatives, and I refunded them for a lot of that because I did not want him to have a poor relationship with BELLAVIX because I care about my customer’s experience even though he didn’t. I refunded him all his money, which at the time was painful because we were a small and young business. But we did what we had to do, we moved on, and it was the best decision. From that, we had a bigger fish to come by, and I was able to put the project team on that; that team was much more respectful, and it was a little more organized.
So what was a scary situation? And for us, what was the decision we had to do was do we do what we would want somebody to do for us, which was refund us and make us as whole as possible, or do we tell these guys to just F off and just disappear, because we could have done that. He’s in Israel; he probably would have never come back to us, but we chose to represent the brand; we choose to be true to ourselves, so that’s what we did.
That’s how the story ends. I’m glad to share this story, it was difficult, and we have sales process questions in place. We try to actually review the accounts before we get started, and I tried to introduce the project team with the client with leads before we actually get started, and these are all ways I found to be more transparent and start relationships out much better so just learning tips.
Morgan (Host): It’s powerful! As a super minor little detail, I also find it useful in the very beginning to ask who is the main decision-maker and to see if we can deal with him like even during those early sale conversations as well because that also avoids the surprise of this like big fish appearing out of nowhere who actually controls things. Well, this was a great story, so it’s a young podcast we’ve had under 11 episodes, but I think this might take the cake for the crazy stories. I’m not sure it’s a record that you want to have.
Will (Interviewee): Well, not necessarily, but if you guys could learn from it and it can help the community, I’m super happy to contribute at the end of the day. We all make these mistakes, I’m still learning, and I’m still bettering myself. So if somebody comes by and can drop some knowledge bombs on me, I appreciate it. So thanks, Morgan, for the platform and the opportunity. I know you’re setting the bar for yourself, and reach out; of course, I’m on your Slack group. You can question me anytime if you like.
Morgan (Host): Sounds great! This was a great story. Thank you for the story, and thank you, everyone, for listening.
This transcription belongs to Episode #8, please watch the complete episode here!