Situation: A company has secured a significant new contract with a new, large customer. The customer sent over their standard, non-negotiable contract which includes the right to cancel orders anytime, even if the company has invested significant funds preparing product against those orders. How does the company respond? How do you negotiate contract terms?
Advice from the CEOs:
Before you sign the contract talk to the customer about restocking or cancellation fees in cases where you have already invested irrecoverable funds against the customer’s orders. See if they will adjust their purchase order clause or offer language to cover unrecoverable costs.
If the customer says that they cannot change the contract, ask for an addendum or side letter of understanding that will protect you from loss of sunk costs against cancelled orders.
If the customer will not bend on any contract language, you can go ahead and sign the contract and then take care of your needs as they submit purchase orders. Create a stamp that you can stamp on their purchase orders defining your protections. Each PO is a new contract that supersedes the general contract.
Situation: A company faces a difficult situation. One of their customers placed a substantial order for custom product a year ago. They have taken delivery of some product but the bulk of the order is still in the company’s warehouse. The company negotiated a cancellation fee with the customer, but they haven’t paid. What is the best option for the company? How do you deal with a deadbeat customer?
Advice from the CEOs:
Because the customer is unresponsive, be ready to take legal action. Get an attorney. The initial process to prepare for a suit may cost $5,000-7,000. Therefore be prepared to sue for damages plus legal fees, with the threat that liens will be put on the customer’s business during the settlement process.
Once everything is ready for a suit, talk to the customer – the message is either they pay in full what they owe or you’re ready to file a suit which will cost them much more.
The Uniform Commercial Code may cover you for custom product. Check this out. This is important so that the company won’t be exposed to a countersuit for filing a frivolous suit.
A route which may be less expensive is to hire a lawyer on a contingency basis. Contingency lawyers may want up to 40% of the settlement or judgement to take a case, and the value of the case has to be large enough to attract their attention.
Situation: A company wants to expand its markets and customer base. Currently their business is dominated by a single customer. What best practices have you developed for identifying new customers and markets?
The key to getting new customers is to devote dedicated time to this task.
If your company is populated by engineer or software specialists, consider hiring a sales professional – a commission based hunter sales person who has experience landing big accounts in markets similar to yours. You may pay this person a good percentage of sales for brining in this business, but gaining the additional business can be worth it.
Much depends upon your relationship with your large customer. When a single client has rights over or ownership of the technology of the company but is not pursuing broader markets that the company is interested in, is it feasible to negotiate rights to pursue this business?
The larger client will pursue their own interests, not those of the smaller vendor. Perhaps a win-win deal can be worked out, but it may be difficult – particularly if the larger client is concerned that use of the technology in other markets could affect its interests in their primary markets.
Be very careful in this situation. The easiest tactic for the larger company to defend itself from a perceived threat is to sue and simply bury the smaller vendor through legal expenses. While the smaller company may be legally within its rights, deep pockets can beat shallow pockets through attrition.
In the case that the larger client simply continues to buy all capacity of the smaller company, an alternative is to raise rates, or perhaps to just say no.
Consider recreating the opportunity – create your own adjunct proprietary product with your own software or design talent and expand your horizons with this product.
Be aware, the large client can still sue if there is any appearance that your proprietary product impinges on their product rights. As in the case above, the larger company has the resources to bury the smaller company in legal expenses regardless of who is legally correct.
Situation: A company has just learned that a new, much larger competitor is moving into their market. They are concerned that this may severely impact their growth and even their existence. How do you respond to new competition in your market niche from a much larger new entrant, particularly if the new player comes in with a low pricing strategy to buy market share?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take a lesson from those who survive a move by Walmart into their territory:
Boutiques and high service specialty stores survive Walmart – especially those that focus on personal service. Walmart does not provide the level of service that you find in one of these stores and doesn’t know their customers as individuals. Boutiques may lose some price conscious customers, but these are not the customers that provide good margin to them.
Use your personal knowledge of the marketplace and your long term relationships to your advantage – including your reputation with existing customers when going after new customers.
You may remain more profitable than the larger company, especially on a per transaction basis, based on your knowledge of the territory or business niche. Walmart can’t tell you the best product to perform a home repair.
Focus on your strengths in the market, and don’t assume that all large companies are Walmarts. Walmart has a unique set of talents and a tightly controlled process. This may not translate to other markets – especially services which are very personal.
Research the reputation and business practices of the new entrant in their other territories. What are they known for, and what are their weaknesses? You may be able to learn this by networking with their current competitors and customers.
If you are a multi-generation family business, consider promoting your “old world skill” and established reputation and expertise.
Situation: A small company has a candidate who seems a great fit for their culture and comes with excellent references. However, this candidate has little experience in their industry. They are struggling to assess which is more important – the quality and character of the person or their experience and skill set? What is your opinion – do you hire for character or skills?
Advice from the CEOs:
Overall, personality, character and values consistent with the firm’s values outweigh skills. However, if the individual needs significant training to attain the skills required for their new role, you must assess the ability of your firm to provide that training. Either that or bring them in at a lower level and let them grow into their eventual role.
If the candidate will fill a business development role, put them across the table from you and others, one-on-one, in a sales role play. Can they sell you on hiring them for the position? If the candidate will have to develop their own leads, make selling you on their ability to do this part of the role-play exercise.
Open up the search to other possible candidates, and assess the current candidate vs. others who may want the position. See if this individual rises to the top in a competition for the position.
Large company experience may not be relevant to the needs of a small firm. Better to find an individual with experience in a firm more similar to your size than with only big company experience.
Key Words: Hire, Candidate, Character, Culture, Skills, Experience, Training, Business Development, Compete, Large, Small