Monday, September 26, 2011

Squeezing the last drop

One of my CIO friends narrated an interesting anecdote about his meeting with a CEO of a mid-sized IT services company. They were talking about the extension of a contract that had run through 3 successful years. The CEO was relatively new to the company and not party to the original contract. He was berating the fact that they were losing money on the current deal and needed to turn around the business and the fact that the global HQ was fast losing patience.

The contract was signed in times when growth was good and business expectations were stratospheric across industries. The then CEO was exploring local expansion as well as captive services for global operations that would have given Indian entity a firm standing. The downturn took everything away including the CEO. Business growth did not revert despite the economy stabilizing. The pressure to turn around the business thus became paramount for this IT Company.

As the negotiations stretched over a few days, the CEO began demonstrating discomfort. In an open book costing he was justified in his pricing but unable to acknowledge that the company had built up higher running cost which could do with pruning. As the customer, my CIO friend was unwilling to pay a substantial increase to accommodate. The choice to the vendor was to cut costs in a hurry and acquire new customers, and to the CIO it was about continuity or moving to another vendor.

Companies set up specialist functions to negotiate deals, sometimes within Finance and at times as an independent charge or within the function equipped with experts who justify their existence with great sounding deals. Some of these may be win-win, but many end up with bickering over legal contract terms or lose-lose unless you are an 800 pound gorilla who nobody can ignore. So how does one define the limit for negotiation ? How do we know that the deal is great for both of us and not a win-lose or lose-win ?

Conventional way is to negotiate hard, drive a bargain that is best value for the customer. It does not matter if the supplier makes money or not; they can always recoup their margin in the next deal or with other customers. This belief has survived and done well for many. Suppliers recognize it and so do customers who play the game. The industry has adjusted prices accordingly so that nothing sells for full price anymore. Everything has percentage off going all the way to 90%. Can we get it free ?

There is a need to change some of these paradigms to bring the dance of the discount to a stop or at least reduce it to realistic levels may be linked to volume of business. CIOs too need to set fair expectations internally and externally to create win-win scenarios and work upon long-term relationship building. Rarely any deal now is tactical. It is also important to remember that people churn across companies. The spurned, scorned or bitter salesperson may turn up a few years later in another company which is critical to your business operations.

People buy from people, so don’t squeeze the lemon too hard, you may end up with a bitter taste.

P.S. my CIO friend concluded the contract with the vendor who did reduce his overhead costs.

No comments:

Post a Comment