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The $5,000,000 Comma

Published: Mar 02 , 2018
Author: Brian Buck

Had my high school English teacher told me that a comma could cost me $5,000,000, I would have paid far more attention! I’m sure that’s what the Oakhurst Dairy company is thinking after it had to settle a dispute over the placement (or misplacement) of a comma.

How many times do we reach verbal agreements or come to terms with another party but never stop to fully document what we’ve agreed to? It happens more often than you think. In fact, I suspect that had Oakhurst Dairy and its drivers accurately documented the true intent of the exemption clause, Oakhurst Dairy could have potentially avoided the $5M mistake.

How do you know if you are doing this well or not? Take this quick assessment:

  1. What percentage of your deals change scope, price, and/or deal terms when you go from what’s been verbally agreed to contract? (0 to 100%)
  2. What percentage of your deals see fundamental changes to scope, price, and/or deal terms during fulfillment of agreement due to misunderstandings? (0 to 100%)
  3. What percentage of your deals wind up being partially or fully disputed after the agreement has been contracted? (0 to 100%)

Add all of your percentages together. The closer you are to zero the greater the likelihood that you are doing an excellent job at documenting your agreements and ensuring all parties are on the same page. The further you are from zero, particularly if you exceed thirty total percent, you might have an issue with how you document your deals.

Some quick and easy tips:

  • Deal with discrepancies in the room. Once you’ve agreed to a deal, recap what you’ve agreed to and ask everyone if anyone has a different understanding. This gives you the ability to deal with the discrepancy in the room while memories are fresh.
  • Send an email recap. Before going to something more formal, send an email to recap the deal and what you’ve agreed to. Some find this very useful before going to a contract.
  • Ask for clarity. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity if you don’t understand or don’t feel you’re on the same page with the other party. Better to get clarity now instead of fighting about it later.

Don’t let something like a comma derail your entire deal.


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About the author:

Brian Buck
As an entrepreneur, business owner, and Fortune 500 business executive, Brian has spent his career building winning teams and driving successful companies. Brian has spent the last 20 years within the marketing and advertising industry developing successful consumer engagement marketing strategies for trusted brands such as Google, Amazon, Samsung, Virgin Mobile, Microsoft and Sony.

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It had been three months since the start of our relationship with our new client. My team had bent over backwards keeping the client happy. Every day the phone rang with a new demand or a new priority. When we got those calls, my team would do their best to convince the client it wasn’t a good idea to change direction so often but eventually, they would acquiescence and do what the client asked. Everyone believed that’s what we needed to do make them happy. ​​​​​​​ At our first quarterly review, the team was excited to hear how they were doing. The client started the conversation by saying, “We’ve never seen this before, but you have become known as the agency of No”. My team was devastated. They felt like they went the extra mile, every time but yet it seem to go completely unappreciated. Turning this around wasn’t going to be easy.

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