Tis the season to be paid off

I recently got a call from a colleague who sells to the technology sector. He asked how to respond to a customer’s request asking each of its vendors to make a substantial donation to the customer’s IT department Christmas party. My friend’s company wouldn’t pay up the bucks and he was concerned that this might adversely affect its relationship with the customer.

As an adviser to providers and buyers of high-tech products and services, I frequently hear stories like this regarding customers and prospects putting the squeeze on vendors to come up with cash, tickets, donations . . . you name it. This obviously puts the vendor in a tough situation and creates an uneven playing field for companies that are attempting to keep margins acceptable while keeping prices competitive.

Let me make it clear that I have no objection to unsolicited, thoughtful holiday gifts to customers. That is a part of doing business. But I have a problem with customers soliciting such gifts from their vendors.

Here are a few of my favourite examples:

- The local office of a national company planned a meeting for important prospects that included the vendor ordering lunch for the meeting. The meeting was cancelled that morning, but the company asked that the lunch be sent over anyway. Bon appetite!

- A sales rep lunching at a restaurant spotted an employee from one of his company’s major customers. The customer was having lunch with someone whom the sales rep didn’t know, but he stopped by the table and said a polite “hello” nonetheless. Later that day, the sales rep received an e-mail from the customer criticising him for not picking up the lunch tab for the customer and his friend.

- A customer called to take a vendor up on an invitation for golf and drinks at the vendor’s private club. The vendor was delighted and asked when he could set up the round. The customer replied that he would take care of that, and, by the way, the vendor wasn’t invited to play, just pay for the round and drinks. Fore!

C’mon customers, lighten up! It’s not right to pound vendors to slash prices and then expect them to come across every time you think you need to be entertained. Happy Holidays.

Edward Horrell is an independent telecommunications consultant, speaker and author

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