“Me First” Doesn’t Work

Have you ever begun exploring a business relationship and found the other party entrenched in “What’s in it for ME?” Every person or business that engages in any activity ultimately has self-interest, so I’m not talking about having an expectation that if you invest your time, efforts and money (or any of these) in the relationship that you get something out of it. What I’m talking about is the tendency of some to put what they need not simply first but foremost, utmost and exclusively.
My most recent experience comes from being asked to speak at a seminar series put on by a local company. The original topic was a how-to on how to acquire customers (hint: relationships).

About a month before the event, they e-mailed asking to change the topic to a specific type of sales. Okay; I could do that. In addition they wanted assistance in marketing the event (of course I was thinking “it’s only a month away and you haven’t been marketing yet?!”). Okay; I can do that as well. After all, it is no fun to talk to an empty room. And … one more thing: they wanted a contract that granted them a “fee” for any business that came out of the event and agreement that they got the customer first, foremost, and … well you get the picture.
Would it surprise you to know that when I indicated that my lawyer needed to review the agreement that they balked? Would it amaze you that in working to define an equitable outcome for both my company and theirs resulted in no agreement?

Have you ever asked a colleague, business, or organization to “work with you” and failed to consider what the other party wants/needs and is contributing? Do you go into “relationships” concerned only about you and your needs?

In this instance, the other party had no experience, knowledge or expertise in the specialized target topic. The process for serving the customer would require either the customer to:

•    Pay both firms for the same hours of work to keep everyone on the same page
•    Risk a potential miscommunication or duplication of work and increase time billed to the customer to facilitate a handoff between the companies
•    Have one company not bill for time to ensure the customer was not paying for the “process” of communication between the companies providing services
•    Have one company contract the other to provide services under a single customer agreement (which would still cost the customer more)

Every day in serving customers, other service providers and I combine our expertise to serve customers. We refer to each other and we hold each other accountable. We often do joint events and we each take the customers we are qualified to serve. We respect the customers’ choices as to whom to do business with. Many times there are no formal agreements (and yes my attorney really hates that). The majority of the time there have been no issues. The few times there have been issues, even legal agreements were not enough to prevent problems.
I am an advocate of legally binding agreements, but I have also come to understand that if you wouldn’t do business with the person on a handshake (yes I am old-fashioned) then you probably shouldn’t be doing business with that person, even with a legal agreement.
Non-disclosures, non-competes, service contracts, and the host of agreements that you can put in place will never replace doing business with those who are interested in a mutually beneficial arrangement and are willing and able to provide value. Have you ever seen (in person, in a movie or on TV) a wagon or cart being pulled by multiple horses? When they are harnessed together and working in tandem, the load gets pulled. When one horse wants to do his own thing, then things get messy and the load goes nowhere.
In all relationships, but especially in business, it’s important to remember “If I give you X ,you give me Y.” In this example, I come to your event to speak and share experience, expertise and knowledge. I do this for no fee. You charge for the event, get sponsors and have a “draw” to bring in prospects for you and for me. We both market the event and work to get the attendees interested in more information and services from BOTH companies. AND if one company has greater expertise in an area, that company has first rights for working with the customer … especially if you need the other party to help you bring them in. Whenever you propose or contemplate a new relationship, look for the benefits to all parties.
Author:  Lea A. Strickland
Copyright ©2012 Lea A. Strickland
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