Fair-weathered friends

The new refrain in business
The new refrain in business

I’m seeing an unhappy, but perhaps necessary trend in business relationships of late, one that may well be born of our troubling economic times. I can ‘splain best with an example:
Last year, Google approached my company about becoming an “Authorized Adwords Reseller.” The courtship, ramp-up and launch process was high-touch. We had lots of conference calls with lots of people. We had regular email correspondence with the support team– all real people with real names. Our business manager went to Mountain View for live training.
This week, we were unceremoniously dumped from the program via a canned email with no human being’s signature on it. I did get a response to my reply of complaint, but it came from the nameless, faceless, phone numberless “Google AdWords Reseller Team.”
To be fair, we hadn’t booked sales into the system yet, despite being live in the fall. There’s lots of reasons for that, but the point is that we got no warning or inquiry into how or if Google could help us ramp up. We’d invested, at my best guess, probably 800 manhours into the training process. Plus, the change in status will require us to incur cost by reprinting  business cards, letterhead, media kits, etc.
I don’t blame Google for cutting programs and partners that they consider unprofitable. Over the last few months, they’ve wisely been trimming off businesses that weren’t contributing enough — a lesson more traditional media companies might have learned a few years ago. And I get that they’re an 800-lb gorilla that won’t be hurt one little bit because I have a bad taste about working with them.
But the way you end a relationship says more about you as a business, or as a person, than the way you start it. And clearly, once you’re an unprofitable partner, a form letter brushoff and a pointer to the fine print in the contract is all that’s required to kick the sludge to the curb and move on. Given Google’s ongoing strategy of limiting personal contact, this wouldn’t be surprising if not for the high-touch that came before.
And this really isn’t about Google, per se. In several smaller situations lately I’ve noticed that people are a little quicker to point to the fine print. Business to the letter of the law is replacing business to the spirit of the law. I suspect that’s because fear replaces greed as the primary motivator in times like these. Long term relationships seem less important as it becomes clear that for more businesses than usual, there may not be a long term.
This mindset isn’t all bad — it certainly makes you more pragmatically evaluate business relationships. But I also find it a little bit sad.
Sadder and wiser — that may be the new mantra of business in the late aughties.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.

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