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Posted by Tim Bryce on June 4, 2012

– Is the customer always right?

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Although vendors will generally work overtime to satisfy the wants and needs of a customer, sometimes it is more important to maintain one’s dignity as opposed to allowing the customer to walk all over you. I have seen many situations in sales and customer service where the client relentlessly pushes for the lowest prices and/or maximum benefits, just to earn brownie points with his management. He is not so much concerned with doing business with a particular vendor as much as he wants to look good in the eyes of his boss.

There are many danger signs to look for in bad business relationships, lying, cheating, and verbal abuse are but a few. Another telltale sign is when a customer asks for copies of the contracts between your two firms. This means two things: first, they’re screwed up administratively, but more importantly, you are about to be cancelled and replaced as a vendor.

One of Bryce’s Laws states, “The only good business relationship is where both parties benefit.” If one party wins at the expense of the other, then you have an unhealthy business relationship which is doomed from the beginning. To prevent such a situation from arising, it is sometimes necessary to just say “No” to the other party. They may not like it, and it might cost you money, but by saying “No”, you are defending the integrity of your business and yourself.

To illustrate, years ago we were asked to give a sales presentation to a well known Fortune 100 company in Dallas, Texas. At the time we were marketing a proprietary methodology for the design of information systems. To maintain the confidentiality of the product, it was necessary for customers to sign a non-disclosure agreement, even in sales situations. We informed the company in Dallas about this stipulation in advance and they agreed to it. We then booked a flight to Texas and arrived at the company to conduct the presentation. There were ten people scheduled for the meeting who greeted us cordially. As we were setting up for the presentation, we distributed the non-disclosure agreements for signing by the attendees. It was at this moment, the senior manager announced nobody from his organization would be signing the non-disclosures but we should proceed with the sales presentation anyway. When we protested we could not conduct the presentation without the signed non-disclosures, they adamantly refused.

This was obviously a situation where the corporate giant was trying to bully the small business. From their perspective, they believed we needed their business more than they needed us. We explained that due to the proprietary nature of our trade secret, we had to take precautions to protect it. Frankly, they didn’t care and called our bluff. Without batting an eye, we thanked them for their time, packed up our materials, and left the premises before showing them anything. One of the Texans followed us out into the parking late, apologized for the snafu, and begged us to come back. We said very matter-of-factly and professionally, we could not, thanked him for his time and departed. From our perspective, it was a wasted trip and even though we were not rash or disrespectful, we felt mistreated by the company. Nonetheless, our dignity and integrity remained intact, not to mention the confidentiality of our product. Interestingly, the Dallas company was still interested in our product as they heard many good things about it from our customers. They subsequently called us many times imploring another chance for a sales presentation, even at their expense, but we respectfully declined their offer. Remarkably, they ended up buying our product sight-unseen, our only customer ever to do so. They did this because they knew the reputation of both our product and the company. They may have been much larger than us, but they respected our integrity.

From a marketing perspective, we like to believe “the customer is always right.” In reality though, this is simply not true, as the customer may have a different perspective than your own. As vendor, it is your responsibility to be honest and upfront with your client, do not compromise your principles, be tactful and professional, and never be afraid to say “No.” One “No” can be more valuable than 100 “Yeses” if told at the right moment.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

SYSTEM START-UPS: A HOSPITAL DRAMA – A lesson in how NOT to install a system.

7 Responses to “JUST SAY ‘NO’…TO BUSINESS?”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A J.P. on Toronto, Ontario wrote…

    “Years ago when I was negotiating teacher collective agreements with Boards of Education everyone agreed it was probably the best possible deal for both sides if both parties were unhappy with it equally.”


  2. Tim Bryce said

    An S.C. of Florida wrote…

    “I enjoy reading your posts. You are a fabulous writer . Wish I could write half as well.” 😉


  3. Excellent post–I’ve seen these bad business relationships develop-especially when the vendor puts all his eggs in one basket so to speak and becomes dependent on the business relationship for survival. Not a good place to be in.

    Cheers, Jenn.


  4. Tim Bryce said

    An O.B. of Macon, Georgia wrote…

    “Today, so many business are there strictly for every penny they can squeeze out of a client or vendor. They think that the money is the important part of doing business. For me,,,I care about the salesmen that I do business with and the clients for whom I work. But ask me to set aside my principles and I will tell you do find another door on which to knock, I don’t care how much money I can make off the deal. (I prefer it the way it is now,,most folks pay me more than I ask) but then my business is not a very big one.”


  5. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “Sounds like you made the right choice by leaving, Tim. When something is given away without price or conditions, there is a tendency to doubt its value. Your insistence on the non-disclosure agreement made the company realize the value of your product. I’m guessing they felt embarrassed by their behavior, too.”


  6. Tim Bryce said

    A B.H. of Dunedin, Florida wrote…

    “I know too well from my personal experiences how important it is to have good ethics. I previously worked for two large companies in management that compromised good management practices just to get business contracts. They would underbid jobs to get the jobs and then cut corners hoping not to get caught by the customer. At the same time many of their customers created an environment that spoke loud and clear we only take low bids.

    Poor management begets poor management and overworked/under-paid frustrated employees . I found myself at odds with my employers, my personal ethics and reputation were at stake. I walked away from my employers because my ethical values had come first. I believe when you start to compromise your own core values for money your on your way to the dark side.

    The lesson learned; my opportunities open even more to be a positive influence in the world. People are actually amazed when someone speaks the truth, and follows through on their commitments.

    Life can be difficult at times but don’t compromise, after all you have to live with yourself. Never give up and regardless of failures you will succeed in the end.”


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