Tuesday, September 18, 2007

When Customers Become Arrogant

I am used to dealing with tough customers, especially in Asia. But they aren't arrogant. Sure, they might rip you off behind your back, but at least they don't act like they are God's gift to mankind while they're doing it.

So I was amused this week when I had a run-in with a U.S. company that is named after a fruit.

Company: Yeah, I want to talk to someone at your company about your technology and I have a very tight deadline.

Window Manager: Sure, I would love to meet to you. I can be in your office tomorrow morning.

Company: We will only talk under Non-Disclosure Agreement.

WM: Great. Send me your NDA.

(I review their NDA. Basically it says that any confidential information I give them they can use free and clear without paying me a dime, which sort of invalidates the whole purpose of an NDA. So I call them the next day).

WM: Um, your NDA has a few issues. There are three sentences I want to change.

Company: No.

WM: Well, how about we have a discussion without an NDA?

Company: You sign our NDA as-is or we don't have a meeting.

WM: How about we make this NDA one-way so that your information to me is confidential, but I really can't tell you anything confidential just yet. We get to that after we talk and see if there is a mutual business opportunity?

Company: Why would I want to meet with you without getting your confidential information? You sign that NDA as-is.

WM: You know, I think it's going to take some time to work out this NDA issue, and you're mentioned you're in a hurry for this project, so why don't we take some time to sort this out, skip this project, and coordinate on the next project?

Company: DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU'RE TALKING TO!! I'M AT (name of a fruit)!

Window Manager: Hey, I'm sorry, but I have a paying customer on the other line. I'll call you back.

(I hang up the phone)

I didn't call him back, figuring he would go away or that he would make my changes, which were perfectly reasonable. After all, my company isn't in the business of giving its trade secrets away.
I didn't count on him using the nuclear option. My phone rings the next day:

: Window Manager, what the hell is going on with the (name of fruit) NDA?
WM: How did you hear about that?
CEO: One of our board members gave me a call. He's friends with some (fruit) execs and someone there called him up complaining about the fact we won't sign their NDA. He then called me wondering what the hell was up.
(I walk the CEO through the history)
CEO: Oh. So I guess we should just wait to hear back from them on our proposed changes?
WM: That's would I would recommend.
CEO: Great. Keep up the good work.
This could have easily gone the other way, with the CEO simply telling me to get the damn NDA done and hanging up the phone, forcing me to swallow their NDA as-is. Which wouldn't have been in the the best interests of my company, and something I would have worked around by limiting contacts and information flow from my company. So the guy at (name of fruit) might have gotten the document signed as-is by elevating it, but he really wouldn't have advanced his cause.
If you look at the exchange, the customer is looking at this as a power play rather than a mutual problem to work out. I offered him several reasonable alternatives to changing the NDA. But because of who they are, he is simply used to getting all his demands and is now working to insure that is what happens.

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