Goliath Landmines

Quick Summary: Potential landmines that can derail a David-Goliath relationship are everywhere; be careful.


The proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” could have easily been created to describe the main reason that business partner relationships fail to begin.  Companies do not form relationships; individuals within organizations do.  It is easy for some of those individuals to misinterpret what they hear and doom the relationship before adequate interaction has occurred.  There are a few almost certain landmines that can easily be trigged if not carefully avoided.

How often do we find ourselves saying, “Oh no, that is not what I meant” or “I am sorry”?  It is so easy to mis-speak or leave the wrong impression with others.  When dealing with individuals that know us well, an apology may not even be necessary; they know us and our intentions and give us the benefit of a doubt.  However, for first-time encounters or for those whom we do not know well, the situation and repercussions can be very different.  The first dance with a Goliath can occasionally fall into the latter category.

In many cases, the first meaningful meeting with a Goliath will involve more than one individual from the Goliath organization.  All of us hear with our own ears and may hear very different things based on experiences, history, agendas or preconceived ideas and expectations.  One or two statements heard and interpreted by some of those present can sour a relationship even before it begins.  There are countless areas in which miscommunications can occur.  Try to carefully predict what you think others are likely to hear and interpret as opposed to what you are actually saying.  Always remember Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Consider how what you are saying might be misinterpreted.  We see this phenomenon nearly every night on the evening news relating to some statements made by a politician or celebrity.   Social media comments have brought this notion to a new height. Some common examples are listed below.

  • You may become fixated with the notion that the Goliath is attempting to steal your idea.  If this occurs, your defensiveness will come through loud and clear.  Others are likely to interpret your defensiveness as offensive.
  • Your apparent anxiousness to “do a deal” may be interrupted as you are focusing only on the short-term benefits for you and not the long-term value of the relationship.  Probably unsaid by the Goliath is the feeling of your focus on a one-night stand versus a long-term relationship.  If this feeling occurs, your other comments may be thought of as self-serving to attain your short-term objective.
  • By focusing only on what you do, how hard it is, the obstacles you have overcome, and the value you provide naturally portrays you as the center of the universe.  Goliaths with their proven track record of success are highly unlikely of think of you in the same way.  To them, you are probably “nothing more” than an interesting adjunct to their already successful business.
  • Eye contact with only the person that you perceive as the key decision maker will alienate others.  As discussed in other articles, key decision makers do not make key decisions without the consensus and support from others.  Ignoring those other support people in the room will alienate them.  Without them, key decision makers most likely will not move forward.
  • Accept the fact that your projected first mover advantage isn’t an advantage at all in the eyes of a Goliath.  Large companies often take pride in being fast followers to learn from the mistakes of the first movers.  Microsoft is an excellent example of this.  Microsoft Word™, Excel™, PowerPoint™, Internet Explorer™ and most of their other products were not first movers. In fact, Microsoft purchased most of these products from others.  They clearly enhanced them over time. 
  • The age-old advice for sales reps is that they should always be asking for the order.  In initial dealings with a Goliath, pressing this issue can easily result in a very definitive “no” answer.  The larger the company, the more likely that multiple groups need to be involved in a decision.  Pressing one group or person can result in a quick and final “no”.  Once said, it will be very hard to turn the situation around and expect the person to reverse their decision.  Have patience and take the time to use it!
  • It has been estimated that over 80% of corporate employees think about starting their own companies.  Seldom ever realize that dream.  Some individuals within a Goliath may view the individuals within a David with jealousy because they have taken the plunge into the startup world.  David employees should avoid bragging about the freedom, lack of bureaucracy, potential wealth, and flexibility associated with being part of a David.  Those types of comments may unintentionally deepen the jealousy felt by Goliath employees.
  • Understand what a high-level “yes” really means.  It may only mean that the Goliath will start the process of working with you.  Legal, quality, marketing, sales, finance, manufacturing, and customer service organizations may now become involved.  Be ready to be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be specific about what you believe the Goliath can gain from the relationship and what you need in turn to make the relationship successful.  As one example, you may expect to have direct access to Goliath’s key customer contacts to pursue on your own.  Goliaths, on the other hand, may have never considered giving up any customer control.  Create an open dialogue early to avoid traveling down a wrong path, or worse, a dead-end path. 
Article Number : 5.050409   

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