Thursday, August 6, 2015

Multi-Customer Negotiation

The worst meetings were on a steep, slippery incline with an unhappy party responsible for allowing me to return to flat earth. I was new to the industry, new to the job working for a company whose market share was in decline. I had just worked for a boss that I thought incompetent, so whatever training that person had provided was suspect. Not only was I a few stories off the ground, but I had three levels of customers involved in the meeting, and no other management cover. I had to rely on my wits and wisdom.

Our company's market share was spiraling down because our product was inferior. We had taken steps to correct it, but we had a lot of stuff out there under warranty and failing fast. Looking at me were the distributor, the installation contractor and the end user--the three levels of customers. Personally, I had another customer: my own company. I needed to figure out a way to make all four content, if not happy, with the proposed solution.

I had a lot of meetings like this, on-site. Some days I had to disappoint the contractor by saying his installation was faulty. Other times the end user was disappointed that the product failed because the substructure--not our product and not the contractor's responsibility--was faulty. I came to understand though, that whatever the outcome, the distributor needed to feel we'd taken appropriate responsibility for the situation so he felt good about risking his business on stocking our product.

No one taught me. I just understood that if my company was going to grow again. The distributors and contractors needed to think that we would stand behind our product and minimize the risk they took in shelving our product and recommending our product to the end user. So, if our product was prematurely failing, I admitted it and we paid for it. If it wasn't, or there was joint negligence among us, we took the brunt. Distributors and contractors were key to my company's comeback. The end user was key to us even getting revenue. I had to protect them.

Where the cost was low, the decisions came fast. Part of our history had been to drag out any decision till someone got exhausted and impatiently took care of the problem on their dime. That didn't help us keep current or get new customers. I changed that by deciding on the obvious cases immediately from my office. Others that took more investigation required those on-site, multi-customer-tier meetings. If the cost was high, and the product hadn't failed, but the distributor and/or the contractor was pushing for us to pay, I balked. If I got forced into it and they were being jerks about it, I would pull sales into the decision and let them know that we wouldn't be giving this guy any more favorable prices or deliveries on future contracts. Eventually we wanted one or both of those customers to go away. We wanted to work with the best, not the jerks.

If you have to negotiate a multi-tier settlement or contract, remember to respect the others' positions and the risk they're taking to throw business your way and honor that. Sometimes growth might cost you a little, sometimes nothing if your forthright and gracious. In any case, it's always a chance to learn if you want to grow with this segment of your market or not, to learn which organizations in those tiers with whom you want to partner.

No comments:

Post a Comment