Situation: A company is interested in partnering with a larger company to market a suite of services. They have identified two good candidates. They haven’t worked with partners in the past and are curious about how other companies work with marketing partners. How do you evaluate marketing partners?
Advice from the CEOs:
The danger of working with a single marketing partner is that all of your eggs are in one basket. Your success in this relationship will depend upon the success of the marketing partner. This, in turn, will depend on the amount of attention that they pay to marketing your services, and on how actively their sales department sells your services. The danger to you is loss of control over the marketing and sales process.
Another company had a similar situation several years ago. At that time, the advice of the CEOs was to not select an exclusive partner, but instead to work with two different marketing partners, even though they are competitors. The company followed this advice, and it has worked like a charm.
Start with a position that you want a non-exclusive relationship. If a potential partner insists on exclusivity then ask for fixed guarantees of business and fixed minimums.
Other companies around the table work in partnership with competing companies all of the time. All of the partners value the services that these companies provide, and the relationships are harmonious.
If a possible partner insists on an exclusive relationship, another alternative is to split territories and supplement your agreements with most favored nation clauses.
Going back to the original question, provided that the terms offered by the marketing partner/partners are favorable, you won’t really know how they will perform until you establish a relationship and monitor it over time. Exit clauses and conditions will be an important part of any marketing agreement.
Situation: A company sued a customer for non-payment. The customer had a long history of slow payment or payment only on threat of denial of service. The customer countersued and has offered to settle for a $7,000 payment. How would you advise the CEO to respond to this frivolous lawsuit?
Advice from the CEOs:
One option is to let the countersuit go to trial. The challenge is that if this ends up before a jury the outcome is a crapshoot and can be very stressful. You may win, but at a higher cost than to settle, and if the other party declares insolvency you may never recover your costs. You also have to deal with the distraction of the suit.
Another option is to respond very aggressively through your lawyer. This sends a message to the other party and may prompt them to lower or drop the settlement demands. If this doesn’t work and you aren’t a gambler, give up the $7K and walk away. However, if there is a way to make this the most expensive $7K that the other party ever collected, go for it.
You may decide on principal to prosecute the case to send a strong message to the market that others should not fool around with your company.
To prevent this situation in the future, assure that you have clauses in all your agreements to prevent future repetitions of this situation. Specify binding arbitration in the case of payment or performance disputes. Arbitration can be more effective and timely than litigation.
Situation: A company just received an approved vendor renewal contract from their major customer. Upon review, they found language that potentially holds them liable to cover the customer’s legal costs of enforcing the agreement. If the company does not sign the contract, they potentially lose their major customer. How do you respond to an onerous contract clause?
Advice from the CEOs:
Corporate attorneys are paid to protect the corporation and purposely write vendor agreements to their favor. There are two issues here: whether they will negotiate this clause, and the likelihood of enforcement – which may be very small.
Double check your previous vendor contract and assure that this language want not present then. If the language is the same as in past agreements all you are doing in updating an expired agreement. Perhaps there is less of an issue than you anticipate.
If you find that this is new language, then call your primary contact in the customer company and ask about the new language. It may be something that their lawyers are trying to add to contracts but will forgo if called on the language. However, if your primary contact responds that this is new standard language in their contracts, you still have options.
Try pushing the issue to higher levels of the organization or through your advocates in the company and ask them them to modify the language.
Call your own company lawyer and ask how they advise you to respond. A letter from your lawyer to the customer’s lawyers may settle the issue.
Call other vendors of this customer and find out how they have responded to the new contract language. If several vendors call and complain about the fairness of the language, the customer may determine that the new language is not worth the hassle.