How Much Does that Gorilla Weigh?

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.

gorilla weighIn 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.


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2 Responses to How Much Does that Gorilla Weigh?

  1. Eric Taylor says:

    This is a great post John.

    I think it’s fair to say that most of us in the small business community have had to deal with gorillas in our respective industries. They are usually customers, but can also be competitors or vendors.

    In the past year, we have dealt with many issues in which we have been dictated to by gorilla customers. One very large pharma company changed their terms to Net 90, another required us to pay a $2000 fee to order to do business with them, and another required us to pay for a system that they implemented that tracks their/our safety program.

    In all three cases, the outcome could have hurt us as a small business. Net 90 terms could crush us on large projects, the $2000 fee was more than the profit we would have made on the project, and the safety program requires considerable time and effort on our part in order to maintain compliance.

    In all three examples, we prevailed. Our relationship with the customers in all three cases was so strong, that all it took was a conversation with the local decision makers. They were sympathetic to our situation, and worked with us to come up with solution. In one case, they agreed to allow us to invoice them for all of the parts at the start of the project, giving us an extra 30 days, ultimately reducing the net 90 terms to net 45. In the other two cases, our local contacts allowed us to add the costs we incurred to the project.

    In my experience, when you explain the hardship the gorillas policies place on our business; reason prevails and an acceptable solution is the result.

    Happy Holidays,

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