Getting a fair deal in any business relationship is not guaranteed. Communicate your value, approach discussions with confidence and be prepared to walk away. Otherwise, you risk damaging yourself and your business.
Starting a business is full of compromises. You feel like you need to bend over backwards to close that first deal. You’re convinced that you must keep every customer happy. You can’t afford to say ‘no’ because, ‘what if the other side gets angry and walks away?’
The result: you enter business relationships that favor one side – and that side is not yours!
You know these unequal relationships are uncomfortable. You feel it in every bone in your body, but you accept them because whether you admit it or not, you think you don’t deserve to be treated fairly.
“I’m just starting out, so it’s OK if I get the shorter end of the stick,” you tell yourself.
This dangerous mindset is damaging your business.
You deserve to be treated fairly
I have the pleasure of working with some of the smartest, most dedicated entrepreneurs in the world. They have innovative ideas, amazing drive and a willingness to test their personal limits.
Yet so often, I see how difficult it is for them to stand up for themselves when it comes to dealing with business partners and customers.
Recently, I met with the customer service team of business-to-business marketing services company with a broad range of international clients and a well-proven product. I learned that one of their largest clients was blasting them with new customer service requests daily and was taking up more than 30 percent of the team’s time and resources, even though this one client made up a much smaller percentage of the company’s revenues.
The customer service team was afraid of upsetting this client for fear of losing the business even though most requests fell outside the scope of their current agreement. After our discussion, the team realized the true cost of always say ‘yes’ – the toll it took on their time, their ability to handle other customers, and their state of mind – and we agreed on a plan of action to re-balance the relationship.
We agreed that a fair business relationship meant this client had to either reduce the number of requests or agree to additional charges to cover the cost of extra customer service.
As this example shows, it’s a good idea to keep a key customer satisfied, but you should never do so at all costs. Otherwise, you risk damaging your business and undermining your own sense of self-worth.
Displaying confidence beats being nice
This damaging mindset is built on one false assumption: that being nice and agreeable in all business situations will make you likeable, and that being likeable will create a fruitful business relationship.
My experience shows that being agreeable all the time simply teaches your business partner or client that they can ask you for anything they want, and they will get it.
In fact, people prefer to do business with people who are confident in themselves and understand the value they and their service delivers. This attitude demonstrates that you’ll be a reliable partner who may not always agree on everything but will certainly deliver everything you agree on.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk. It just means that if you stand up for yourself, people will respect you. In the long run, you’ll be looked upon as a professional partner who deserves to be treated fairly.
How to guarantee you get a fair deal
Long-term partnerships are built on a fair and balanced deal, no matter the size or negotiating position of either party. Here are some tips I’ve followed to build hundreds of strong business relationships in over two dozen countries:
1. Communicate the value you deliver
Every successful business relationship is built on an exchange of value. Your value is the product or service you deliver. Your partner’s value will likely be either a financial benefit, a form of distribution or access to a valuable network.
Make sure your business partner understands that working with you will bring value to their business. If you’re not sure of what your value is, stop the discussion immediately and read my post on how to formulate your value proposition.
2. Approach discussions with confidence
To quote Oprah Winfrey, “You teach people how to treat you.”
Set the tone of your discussions by indicating that you are only interested in a mutually beneficial business relationship. As you progress in your discussions, be sure to always act professionally and make it clear that you will expect the same from the other party.
Be careful! There’s a very fine line that separates self-confidence from arrogance. Self-confidence attracts people, arrogance repels them. Make sure you’re on the right side of that line.
3. Remember: the customer is NOT always right!
In managing active customer relationships, be sure to listen to your client’s request, but don’t feel obligated to agree to every single one.
Set clear guidelines on what elements are part of the existing partnership and communicate clearly if you feel that certain requests fall outside of your agreement and require new terms or extra compensation.
4. Be prepared to walk away
Nothing strengthens your position more than the willingness to leave the table. If the negotiations or if a business relationship turns out to be more trouble than they’re worth you must be prepared to walk away.
If you truly believe that you can live without a deal, your subconscious communication will send a clear message to the other party that if they want to build a business relationship with you, they need to move further in your direction.
5. Always have a ‘Plan B’
Continue to work on alternative solutions to your problem until you are 100 percent certain that your preferred option is concluded. If you are in an active sales process, never let yourself ‘fall in love’ with one customer. Always have multiple on-going client discussions in your pipeline.
Having multiple options will help you stand firm in achieving a fair and balanced relationship, and make sure that you don’t accept conditions that you know may jeopardize the long-term viability of your business.
Building long-term, mutual beneficial business relationships is not easy, but making this a priority is. Make sure you don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a business with a solid foundation and bright future.