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Pushy Sales Reps and Unreliable Vendors: How to Survive in the Unpredictable World of Business

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Editor’s Note: The Grind is a weekly column that asks a revolving cast of young founders to take us through the daily rigors of running a business, as well as offer up advice on how they achieved milestones or overcame challenges. Follow The Grind on Twitter with the hashtag #YEgrind.

Green Bean

From vendors to employees, I am constantly dealing with unpredictable and unreliable people. As the owner of the St. Louis-based salad shop Green Bean, I realize that these parties can't be fully controlled. But as an entrepreneur, this is a tough fact to accept.

They don’t answer your questions. They don’t send over the files they promised, or worse, they don’t meet their deadlines. Dealing with unreliable people feels downright frustrating because, in my view, if I could control all of the variables, I'd be able to obtain the exact results I want.

Alas, this isn't ever the case. No matter what happens, those people aren't always going to do what you want and they're certainly not going to go away.

Take for example, my recent switch to a new vendor, one that was going to take our dairy order. In the transition process, their sales rep assured us they carried all six of the cheeses we offer. Given our storage and refrigeration space limitations (we only have 900 total square-feet), when we place our nightly order, we only order items we are almost out of. For our initial delivery with them, we ordered several cheeses. The next day, no dairy arrived. Several phone calls later, we were assured it would come the next day and that it would never happen again. It took almost a week to receive our order.

That vendor did manage to work out the kinks and has consistently kept our items in stock since. While frustrating, there are ways to cope with unreliable people. Here are four lessons I learned from my experience and others where I've dealt with inconsistent people:

Related: Trust, Fairness, Respect: Qualities of a Good Boss and a Great Leader (Infographic)


Never forget these people are your secret weapon, the fuel to your fire. While they may at times be unpredictable, never abuse, take advantage or underestimate this group. Your relationship will, hopefully, be a long one, so nurture and develop it from the very beginning.

Do so, by establishing respect, courtesy and an environment they can learn from one another. They will likely forgive you if you slip up and say something harsh once or twice, but at the end of the day, your employees are your rock. Treat them well.


Despite the fact they are the sole reason you invested in a fax machine, they refuse to send electronic invoices (even though it’s 2013) or consistently fail to call you when an item is out of stock, your vendors are partners in your business. When you succeed, they succeed (and vice versa).

Related: Leadership Playbook: 3 Ways to Coach, Not Criticize, Employees

You need each other, so be careful not to burn any bridges. A strong supplier relationship comes in handy when you need a favor or when cash is tight.

Sales Reps

No matter how many times you ask them not to visit or call during a busy lunch rush, they will continue to do exactly that. Before brushing them off, figure out the marginal difference between spending months avoiding them or sacrificing one hour of your time to hear their pitch. The worst that can happen is you actually like their product! However, if they are pitching something completely unrelated to your needs, learn how to say no politely but firmly.


This one is easy. These are the people we got into business for in the first place. Most of the time, they are going to make your day better. On the rare occasion you are not emotionally equipped to deal with them, just remember they are the reason you exist. As cliché as it sounds, the customer is always right. Just remember to say that with a smile.

Overall, it is important to make sure you’re equipped to deal with people at all times. No matter how little you have slept or eaten, when you are dealing with people, that’s the time to put your energy forward.

To follow the ups-and-downs of running a startup, check out The Grind.

How would you handle dealing with people you can't control? Let us know in the comments below.

Sarah Haselkorn

Written By

Sarah is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis where she studied systems engineering and entrepreneurship. During her junior year she opened Green Bean, an eco-healthy salad restaurant. She is now in the midst of launching her second business, a line of performance-focused men's business socks: Unfettered Socks. She was a finalist in the Entrepreneurs' Organization's Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2012. Find more about her on her website.