The 14 Rules of One CEO’s Proposed Brand-Vendor Treaty

by Charles Araujo | March 31, 2022

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Today is March 31st, the end of the first quarter.

And whether you’re a tech company executive or an enterprise leader, you know what that means — it’s the end of quarter (or month or year) sales push.

It’s a long-standing ritual made worse by hyped-up valuations and intense pressure by investors (even in private equity-held or venture capital-backed companies). And it can bring to the surface the great, mutual frustrations that exist between a tech company and the enterprises to whom they are trying to sell their tech.

All of this came up during a conversation I had not long ago with Charlie Cole, the CEO of FTD.

Charlie is a true innovator in the eCommerce industry and one of the most forward-thinking executives I’ve ever met. After we talked, he sent me what you are about to read. It’s a “treaty” that he proposed should exist between vendors and “brands” (which I think is really any enterprise). And while he wrote it specifically in the context of eCommerce vendors, I think it applies to every single purveyor of technology in the ExTech Market.

Most importantly, it’s a wildly valuable perspective that every tech and enterprise executive should take to heart. Enjoy — and then put it into practice (and please don’t spam Charlie!).

The Brand-Vendor Treaty

By Charlie Cole, Chief Executive Officer of FTD

I got an email from a good friend of mine recently. He recently started a sales job for a company that had apparently reached out to me for a call and there was a Slack Board talking about how much of a jerk I was — clearly, he thought that was hilarious.

My crime? I answered a cold email with: “Hi. Thanks for the note – I forwarded this over to our director of digital marketing who will reach out if interested.”

I must admit — it hurt. I don’t want to be a jerk (at least 10 people read that last sentence and scoffed).  I make it a point to try to reply to every single cold email (that doesn’t go straight to spam) or LinkedIn message I receive. But that doesn’t mean the answer is always affirming. 98% of the time it’s probably a polite decline (or at least I thought it was polite).

This made me realize: there is a fundamental breakage in the relationship between brands and vendors in the eCommerce space. Here are the two most typical scenarios:

  • Vendor cold emails brand. Brand doesn’t respond.
  • Vendor cold emails brand. Brand responds and says they’re not interested. Vendor’s contact management system automatically adds brand email to chain mail (Can someone explain to me how this isn’t a spam violation?). Brand receives chain mail – gets mad – curses vendor under breath while moving on with their day while a subconscious vendetta against both sales person and sales person’s company brews in their brain.

Here’s the thing – and this may be hard for some of my brand brothers and sisters to hear: WE. NEED. VENDORS.

We need vendors to innovate for us, to invest more in Research and Development then we ever could, to solve problems that are way too complicated for our companies to even fathom, and to tackle things SO hard that they must burn money for YEARS before a viable business emerges.

The reason I try to read every one of these cold emails is because every once in a while, someone is doing something truly different and exciting.  As a brand, if you can find one of these early stage companies there is this symbiosis:

  • The vendor needs a key client to legitimize them in the market place
  • The brand gets favorable terms and the ability to influence the product road map

It’s a beautiful thing.

In an effort to make this whole relationship sustainable and productive I would like to propose a Brand-Vendor treaty of sorts — things we can all agree on that will make each other more successful, wealthy, and, most importantly, will stop us from being so damned annoyed with one another. 

Usually treaties have cool names based on where they are signed (The Treaty of Versailles, The Lateran Treaty, etc.) but I’m virtually positive this treaty is going to be signed by one person…me. So, without further ado, I present to you the proposed terms of the Treaty of Charlie’s Porch (which is where I am so dutifully writing this):

Brands & Vendors Hereby Agree:

Rule 1

Brands will read and respond to every cold email. 

Rule 2

Vendors will NOT auto add people to an email list because they responded.

Rule 3

Brands will take at least one prospective sales call every week – and during this call they will not look at their phones, check their emails etc. Your goal is to learn what these folks want to sell you.

Rule 4

Vendors will burn their copy of Getting to Yes and instead start to embrace ‘No means No’. Nothing makes me want to avoid working with a vendor more than someone who continues to pester me after I’ve said I am not interested. I get it, you’re a sales person. But more importantly, we’re both grownups who respect each other right?

Rule 5

Brands will realize that going to conferences where you don’t have to pay for admission comes with the reality that you’re going to get sold things. Do I really need to spell out this quid pro quo for you? Nothing makes me more annoyed when someone is sipping a margarita poolside in Las Vegas on a Tuesday at 2pm lamenting the fact that someone had the gall to approach them while they were walking the expo hall earlier. Hey you! You up there on your high horse! Knock it off!

Rule 6

Vendors will never write a cold email longer than 100 words. If the email is longer than 100 words, brands are allowed, nay, encouraged to disregard and potentially respond with sarcastic ridicule.

Rule 7

Brands will acknowledge that the end of the month matters. This one took me a long time to get, and I used to be the biggest breaker of this rule (“Why do I care what your commission cycle is?!”). This goes back to the mutual respect thing – whether we agree with the compensation model or not, towards the end of a month, quarter, and year sales folks’ livelihood is tied to you giving them a straight answer. Feel free to leverage this fact in negotiations, but don’t mislead your urgency or lack thereof.

Rule 8

Vendors will stop putting auto-renewals in contracts. It just feels gross, right? I understand the need for repeatable revenue in raising a venture round, but I’d also like to be able to agree with one another about our relationship as opposed to having a messy breakup after someone ‘misses’ their date.

Rule 9

Brands will be on time to sales calls. When did time become a measurement up for interpretation? Being late is the equivalent of saying “your time isn’t important to me.”

Rule 10

Vendors will stop pretending like they aren’t trying to sell you something. Phrases like “get your opinion on,” “value your advice,” or “wanted to bounce some ideas off you” are at the very least misleading if not straight lies. Just tell us what you want.

Rule 11

Brands will tell vendors why they lost out on a deal (within the realm of NDAs, etc). Remember folks: we’re trying to better the ecosystem here and clear, concise, honest feedback is an essential aspect of a good relationship. Telling someone “you were multiples more expensive” is enough — no one is asking you to compromise your ethics.

Rule 12

Vendors will stop bad mouthing their competition. What is this, “Mean Girls”?

Rule 13

Brands will not request detailed demos just to scope the product out to build their own tech. Not only is it icky, it is border line illegal.

Rule 14

Vendors will end the utterly ridiculous practice of rhetorical questions. “Would saving 25-75% off of your CPCs help your business?” Just stop it.

There they are — fourteen rules we can all sign up for. To give you some perspective, the constitution’s first fourteen amendments lasted 92 years. As my Generation Z friends would say: #goals. 

I’m totally open to suggestions on things I’ve missed, things that are stupid, or things that you think are awesome.  Have at it.

More Analysis & Insights 

About the author 

Charles Araujo

Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise, the Digital Experience and the Future of Work. Researching Digital Transformation for over 10 years, he is now focused on helping leaders transform their organizations around the digital experience and to reimagine the future of work. Publisher and principal analyst of The Digital Experience Report, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, co-founder of The MAPS Institute, and author of three books, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and advisor to technology companies and enterprise leaders.

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