Dealing with purchasing agents

Here’s the scenario – I’m dealing with a major company selling a certain widget to them. This widget is quite difficult to make and we went through a six-month prototype/approval sales process with them. We agreed on pricing and delivery and got the order, along with their terms and conditions – therein lies the problem.

These T&C’s were so onerous that I couldn’t even pass them up the line for review. There were clauses in there that stated that they own any IP used on the project (even if you invented it 5-years ago), production couldn’t stop for price adjustments even though they had the right to refuse shipment at any time for any reason, and the list goes on and on.

I was on the line with the purchasing agent and she finally gets disgusted with me and blurts out that they already let a purchase order out to a competing firm. Now, I’m pretty good at doing my sales homework, so I know that the engineers haven’t talked to anyone else for at least five-months. I hide that knowledge and graciously accept her statement and tell her that I hope we can work together in the future.

I hang up the phone and immediately send an email to my three main engineering contacts wishing them luck with their new supplier and I wish them luck bringing their ambitious schedule in on time. This is no exaggeration – by the end of the day, there were over a dozen emails sent to me and the buyer asking how this was possible and saying that I’m the only supplier and finding another one will take several months and ruin their program, and on and on.

The buyer called me the next day and said that she misunderstood what was going on and she is now willing to work with me on the T&C’s. I of course was a gentleman and thanked her for her consideration and we’re now moving forward.

Bottom Line: Make sure that you are detached enough from your deals so that you can play the ‘walk away’ card when you think it’s appropriate. If this was the only deal in my pipeline, I probably wouldn’t have been as brave (stupid?) and might have caved in on some of the key terms of the deal.

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