How much does that (fill in your preferred number here) pound gorilla weigh?
I always refer to an 800 pound gorilla, but I’ve heard others use everything from a 400 pound gorilla (which is pretty close to their real size) to a 1,000 pound, 1,200 pound, and even a 10,000 pound gorilla (some folks will always think bigger is better). Regardless of the zoological accuracy of the metaphor, we all understand it. It refers to a person or organization who commands compliance by their size or authority alone.
Despite their fearsome demeanor, gorillas are generally peaceful. Their strength commands respect because they are powerful enough to do massive damage without intent.
In business, gorillas come in many forms. They are most often customers, but appear frequently as vendors or competitors. Some gorillas are universal. When purchasing, for example, the Federal Government is the gorilla. Regardless of your size, product or services, you bid and price according to their standards.
Other gorilla customers and vendors use their size to bully smaller vendors. They announce unilateral changes in payment terms, restrictive or expensive conditions of sale, or threaten to end a relationship over any variance in their preferred process.
Some gorillas seem unaware of their power. Decisions made by middle managers in giant vendors or customers can wreck a small business without any deliberate intent.
Many private companies have a gorilla relationship. Customer concentration is one of the most frequent reasons for reduced valuation in a small business. Owners say that they are going to build the rest of their customer base to balance the influence of the gorilla. In reality, just keeping up may take the majority of their attention.
Speed and Agility
How do you deal with a gorilla in your business?
In the wild, gorillas have only two natural enemies. One is the leopard. Although successful attacks by leopards are rare, they do occur. In a very few cases, speed and agility can prevail over brute strength.
The other enemy is man. Humans are the undisputed top of the food chain. Their superior intelligence allows them to trap or kill gorillas almost at will.
Similarly, some small businesses can prevail in an uneven relationship using speed and agility. Like leopard attacks, those victories are rare. Although owners say “Our responsiveness and flexibility will keep us in the game,” one well-placed blow can break your back.
Dealing with gorillas takes intelligence.
- Expand your contacts so that one decision maker isn’t your only relationship
- Customize your offerings in a manner that is hard to duplicate
- Maintain your marketing, even in the most solid relationships. It never hurts to tell someone about what you have done for them lately
- Remind the customer or vendor of how important they are to you. (Unless, of course, it’s a bully.)
A really large customer can propel your business to the next level, as long as they don’t accidentally swat you.
We’ve published this column weekly since 2008. Please share it with another business owner! Thanks for Reading.