Full disclosure: a couple of stories are mine; a couple are from colleagues. Two are from the 70's/80's before corporations had rules against this stuff (the 70's and 80's are THE REASON those rules were established....). You'll be able to tell which took place "back then" right away.
Sales to automotive companies and other major corporations in the Good Old Days was challenging, and few ethical lines were drawn. I was fortunate enough to learn from a great boss who occasionally (grudgingly) crossed the line into his own gray area, but never considered doing anything remotely illegal or unethical. The stories here are not about suppliers who offer "consideration", but about customers who demand it. You'll see that even without breaking laws, that gray area can be mighty wide:
- Supplier calls to invite Customer to lunch. Customer requests lunch at a topless bar, followed by an afternoon of adult movie entertainment. (This was the 70's when many Gentlemen's Clubs had regular lunch specials and alcohol at lunch was expected. Because he's now deceased, I will reveal that this was my old boss who was most often described as a "gentleman". He obliged this customer but said that there is nothing that makes you feel sleazier than exiting an adult movie theatre into the bright sunshine at 2 in the afternoon...).
- Customer is one of many contacts within a corporation that Supplier calls on. Customer A is pleasant and sets meetings, but takes Supplier's ideas and buys them from Crony B. Years later, Customer A is "downsized" and contacts Supplier to "catch up". Customer A acts like they were Supplier's best customer and actually says the words, "I always enjoyed working with you". Not how Supplier remembers it.
- Customer and Supplier are in Las Vegas at a trade show; it's expected that the supplier will pay for any entertainment that is enjoyed in the evening. This particular customer requested a limo, a table and bottle service for their group at a current hot spot (this means that greasing the door man will be required). Expected customer entertainment; nothing strange here until the customer requested a hooker (or cash to procure a hooker). Gray area breached.
- Supplier quotes Customer a price on a project based on the required specs. Supplier and Customer go back and forth for many days where the Customer asks the same question in a variety of ways: Customer wants all of the required elements but for half the quoted price. Supplier politely declines the project (several times). A couple of weeks later, Customer contacts Supplier and reiterates how impressed they were with Supplier, but cannot afford them at this time. Would Supplier please answer the following questions and help Customer to craft the project contract with the supplier that they chose? Seriously.
- Customer calls Supplier for help with Christmas Gift for his wife (frequently purchased merchandise for customers at corporate/wholesale pricing; regular perk of business relationship) - and help with Christmas gift for his mistress?
Everyone finds their own tolerance for gray area. Consensus seems to be: strip club/maybe, hooker/no, connecting bad customer with someone on LinkedIn/probably (why hold grudges?), helping a non-customer to write their contract with another supplier/I don't think so. Christmas gift for wife & mistress/send 2 things to Customer and let him sort it out.
I've heard MANY other stories over the years and would love to hear yours! Comment here or send me a private email and I'll include your story in Customers with Balls Part 2!