Ask for What You Need from a Business Relationship

In CCAW’s early days I was constantly trying to convince vendors to work with us. They’d never heard of CCAW and I was asking them to do things they weren’t doing for other customers. I sounded like that annoying customer who would be a pain to work with. Many said no, but a few said yes. Often the terms and pricing were unfavorable because I wasn’t in a position to negotiate. The opportunity, though, was worth paying inflated prices.

Over time our spend and reputation with vendors grew. Our use of technology meant that our relationship required minimal interaction. Translation: our account was highly profitable. Vendors loved working with us. We eventually became the largest customer of some of them.

One day I realized that our relationships had evolved from customer–vendor to more of a partnership. We had a unique perspective (and data to support it) on their operations across many states. We also had customer insights nationally. None of their other customers provided these things.

We began to embrace our strengths. We started providing data to our vendors, but we also made an ask. We had been bearing the brunt of their operational mistakes and eating the costs. In our minds it was a cost of doing business. As we scaled, the error percentage stayed the same, but the dollars were material (e.g., an 1% error rate went from a loss of $1,000 to $100,000 annually). We asked them to assume this financial burden. We thought they would say no. After all, it wasn’t something they did for any other customer. To our surprise, they quickly agreed. No negotiation. Just a quick yes. Apparently, the value we brought to the relationship far exceeded the cost of our request.

Healthy relationships are bidirectional. This experience taught me a valuable lesson about managing healthy business relationships. Ask for what you need to receive from the relationship. Good partners will recognize your value and want to reciprocate by saying yes.