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Bizarre request for info - how to decline

We are a small privately held company with fewer than a dozen employees. We have several programs for sale including one particular small niche program that is very well regarded in its field as the best in class. It sells for around $100. I recently received a purchase order from a pretty large, well-known  corporation. They want to buy one copy. As a condition of paying us, they have a process that involves filling out a bunch of forms, including all kinds of personal information about our business, stuff that we don't reveal to anyone other than our accountant. They want information about our incorporation status, tax id numbers of employees, affidavits of US citizenship for the principals of the business, stuff like that. It is all under the auspices of being for their own private 'expanded' version of the W9 form, which is the form to collect tax information for independent contractors, which really doesn't seem relevant since we are not offering to do contracting for them, this is simply an order for a single small, inexpensive program.

Anyway, we've decided that there is no way we are going to be giving them any of this info. It is my responsibility to decide how to respond to them. I am wondering if anyone has any advice as to how to convey our decline to them in a professional manner. My first thought is to tell them to go f* themselves, but I don't want to seem unprofessional, although the business owner and the business manager are cowboy types and both are quite in favor of the f* approach.

Privacy Matters
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Just send a reasonably civil note that states that their conditions for information disclosure are unacceptable and out of line with your business practices, and therefore you cannot complete this transation.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

> I don't want to seem unprofessional

So don't be.

Politely answer that if they want to buy a copy, that's fine, but that you do not believe the information they ask for has any relevance to the transaction, and that you do not reveal that information to anybody.

What's so hard about being polite and professional?

Employed Russian
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Im in favour of the F* approach. Sometimes you have to stand up to the big guys.

pedestrian walking by
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Require the same information from them, and then some. Then after they have sent it all to you tell them that you don't want to do business with them.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Just fill out the parts you're willing to fill out and send it back half-empty.

Remember that the person who is making you fill out the form is a low-level clerk in purchasing who is going to start getting yelled at by a line-of-business manager who actually needs your software.

We had a pretty funny experience once where a lawyer at some big company send us back a list of required modifications to the shrinkwrap/license agreement for CityDesk. For a $79 purchase, I think, they wanted to spend thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees negotiating a custom license agreement.

Just ignore them. It's a bureaucracy that doesn't realize what it's doing. Sometimes they have new policies they put in place for their $1,000,000 suppliers and they never realized the implications of those policies.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

(By the way, we keep a stack of filled-out W-9 forms around which we send or fax to anyone who asks. You are legally required to disclose some things, like your incorporation status and that business about backup withholding)

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

So Joel, did you tell the guys who wanted to change your license agreement that you would gladly do it if they agreed to pay for your legal expenses plus a $xxx/hr "consulting fee" :-) ?

I some idiot company is giving away free money, I say take it.

Ken Klose
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I worked with a really big company's purchasing folks on at least 50 huge RFP's. They had a very expensive and professional process for vetting vendors, particularly software, for big projects. Those guys were strict. They also had exceptions to avoid wasting time on small purchses. The person who asked for the information may be a purchasing amateur who read the wong pages of their ten volume purchasing manual.

tk
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

> Require the same information from them, and then some. Then after they have sent it all to you, tell them that you don't want to do business with them. <

I don't who he is, but I love him...

Grumpy Old-Timer
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Thanks to all for the helpful replies. I agree that the guy sending it is just some clerk mindlesly following or possibly misunderstanding some policy intended for big purchases.

I will politely decline, but give a small amount of the info requested, the stuff that is public knowledge anyway.

Privacy Matters
Thursday, March 18, 2004

"Im in favour of the F* approach. Sometimes you have to stand up to the big guys. "

You'll just be rude to some grunt much like yourself.
Whoever receives the correspondence isn't the person
or persons who made the policy, who most likely are
lawyers who would just (rightly) dismiss you as a twit.

jqb
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"Thanks to all for the helpful replies. I agree that the guy sending it is just some clerk mindlesly following or possibly misunderstanding some policy intended for big purchases."

So politely suggest that the process seems out of proportion with the purchase, and that if they can use some simpler process that doesn't require you to divulge internal information, you would be more than happy to work with them to meet their needs.

jqb
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

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