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Damaged Goods: A Relationship Gone Bad

Brian Buck
240220 Damaged Goods
© Scotwork NA

We were excited to have won the RFP, till we started to negotiate the final contract. That’s when excitement turned to anger and collaboration became competition. It was a maddening situation, and it left me wondering, “Do I even want this business?”

After we had won the RFP and the scope of business was laid out, it was time to work through the contract. As we went through the process, we had a few clear differences in approach. But after hours of negotiating back and forth, we were able to map something out that seemed to work for both of us. We sent over our markups, clearly outlined and laid out so that everyone could see the changes we’d all agreed to.

A week later, they sent back a clean PDF version of the contract. They said they’d accepted all our changes and the contract was ready to sign. I’m not sure what caused me to pause, but I did. Maybe it was because the doc came back as a PDF instead of a Word document like we’d sent, or maybe because it took them a little longer to return it than I thought it should. Regardless, my gut told me I should check the doc one more time before we signed.

I’m glad I did.

The 30-plus-page contract included 50-plus new changes, with six updates so substantive that it changed the relationship in a manner we couldn’t accept. Not only was I angry, I was crushed. I felt duped and taken advantage of. 

Why did they do this? None of it made sense. Still, we were left with one question: “What do we do now?”

My wife has told me numerous times that when someone shows you who they really are, believe them. This was one of those times. They showed me what kind of client they were going to be, and I knew that was not a client we could work with. It seemed they were showing me their choices could be unethical and devious. I knew we had to walk away.

I went back to the RFP’s sponsor to resign from the business. I showed him our grievance and told him we could not work with a team that was so willing to be this underhanded, particularly after what seemed like a very collaborative process. We want partners as clients, not competitors.

The sponsor had no idea this had gone on and was embarrassed. He understood, and we said our goodbyes. 

A week later, he called me to express his regret and remorse. Upon further investigation, he said, the changes were inserted by a rogue agent who felt like they could do so without anyone noticing. He said that’s not how they operate as a business, and that person had been relieved of their duties.

He understood if we chose not to take them on, but if we reconsidered, he’d make it worth our while. I told him I’d listen on one condition: Whatever we agreed to, he would stay involved in all matters of this relationship, including finalizing the contract.

In the end, we couldn’t finalize the deal. We were too far apart on a number of items, and frankly, trust was so damaged that we just didn’t believe they would do their part in this relationship. So, we walked away.

This is an easy story to tell today, but it was so difficult to deal with in the moment. Here are three things that helped me in that situation:

  1. We didn’t compromise our values. We knew who we were, we knew the kinds of people we wanted to work with, and we knew that life was too short to work with unscrupulous people.

  2. We acted with alignment. Before I made the call to the client, I talked about it with my team. We explored all the angles, but in the end, we agreed on the decision. That gave me comfort and confidence.

  3. When people show you who they are, believe them. My wife’s advice was so spot-on. I tried to rationalize their behavior so we could take on the business. But the reality was their actions outweighed their words.

Years later, I ran into some people from the agency that the client landed with after us. Turns out, the client had gone through three agencies in four years and is still looking for a new one. Damaged goods.

We Can Help You Steer Clear of Damaged Goods.

Relationships are the heart of the deal. And relationships come down to trust. When you want to be confident in the deals you make — and the deals you walk away from — you can rely on Scotwork experts’ nearly 50 years of real-world experience.

Talk to one of our experts today.

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