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Entries in Vendor (2)


Buyer Beware

Matt Ferm, of Harvard Partners, picks up on the theme around vendors and serving clients and shares his views in this guest post.

Over the past couple of months, I have been shocked by the number of clients claiming their IT vendors don’t care about them.  From “the vendor charges us to have strategic discussions” to “I think my vendor hates me,” there seems to be some type of disconnect between customer expectations and vendor’s ability to deliver.  I am not talking about hardware, software, or project delivery, but rather delivering trust, confidence, and support.

My benchmark for an exceptional vendor experience came from my days managing the IT infrastructure organization at a large Boston-based investment management firm.  I received a call from the regional sales manager for a storage vendor.  He said he was sending over three fully-loaded storage arrays.  I asked why, and he told me we were about to be audited and required to produce massive amounts of email.  He knew we would need the storage.  When I told him I didn’t have budget and couldn’t commit to purchasing the storage arrays, he said “don’t worry about it.”  He knew I was going to be in trouble and did not want lack of storage to be a concern.  He was right.

Tough economic times lead to increased pressure on sales people to either book revenue or move on.  Non-billable time helping customers is no longer viewed as an investment, but rather an expense.  What ever happened to the concept of business development?

As I am always reminded by a good friend, “people buy from people.”

The word “partner” is clichéd, but very apropos.  IT Customers need sales people to be partners.  They need a sales process providing guidance, advice, and honesty along with someone who will escort them into new technologies, processes, and skills.  A sale is the result of this process and not the driver.

Relationships exist between two or more people.  Customers must be open with their sales reps, set expectations for what is expected in the relationship, and occasionally be willing to help the sales person during tough times (“it’s end of quarter.”)  Customers must also find ways to be referencable and help open doors for the sales person.

We recently received the following comment from a client.  “I really have to say that this has been one of my best experiences working with a consultancy. From getting up to speed quickly, being responsive, to your much-appreciated candor and of course the negotiating work with the vendors, you did not slow us down and most definitely added value to the process.”  Knowing that we did the right thing and made an impact is just as important as getting paid.  Not only will this client ask us to do more work for them, but we will be looking forward to it.

My advice to sales people is to:

  • Forgo the short-term sale in exchange for the long-term revenue stream
  • Understand customer need and create a roadmap for evolutionary change
  • Prove you understand how to deliver business value and not just product
  • Have your customer’s back
  • Trade the cost of dinners, gifts, and sports tickets for helpful advice
  • Evolve from vendor to trusted advisor

In the end customers will be happier, make better use of products and services, and sales will increase.  A win-win all around.


Vendor Communications Bill of Rights

Most of my telephonic career has been spent receiving phone calls from vendors, with an additional 25% of vendor communications over email. Now I’m a vendor, and am astonished with the communications norms of companies.

Suppliers don’t understand what it is like to be on the firing line. Suppliers don’t get paged when something breaks in the middle of the night, and it’s expected you’ll be in late after entertaining a client. Add in performance reviews, 1:1s, budgets, etc and the day easily slips away to “wall to wall” meetings. Asking you to meet at 7AM (or 7PM) isn’t meant to be a negotiation technique; it’s a survival tool.

Companies don’t understand suppliers are trying to hone their message to meet their needs. As a generality, reputable vendors are focused on addressing an issue focusing on the remuneration second (of course it’s expected if the solution is good.)

In discussing this with some other supplier friends, they had a similar reaction, and offered the more senior the person the more likely a return conversation. So this post isn’t for the top of the house, it’s for the mid to emerging talent, written from the perspective of the company having suppliers calling on them.

Vendor Communications Bill of Rights

  • Cold Calls, direct mail, and broadcast emails – We reserve the right to delete these in the fastest way we can. Vendors cannot possibly expect calls back as we receive many of these daily.
  • 15 minute follow ons – If you have a solution we may be interested in, we will have a short follow on meeting. This allows us to quickly determine if more time with a broader audience makes sense.

    Suppliers are taught to let us talk.
    In our first session, we want to know what you have to offer. Use this time wisely; using 15 minutes to talk about the history of the supplier company makes little sense.
  • Follow ups – we will get back to you either:
    • When we commit to get back to you. If we say one week, we will reach back in a week. We know our calendar and other commitments
    • Within 24 hours – since we are in meetings for great periods of the day, we’ll get back to you when we can. In many cases, we can only reach back before or after the traditional workday. Please do not take it personally if we are not responding immediately.
  • Saying NO – we will be clear when NO means “no” and when it means “GAME OVER.” We understand the selling starts at “no”, and understand you’ll come back. When it’s “game over”, please respect our decision. We will advise you of our decision within the decorum of sound vendor relations
  • Doo Dads, etc. – We have shirts, pen and pencil sets, coffee mugs, thermometers, desktop tool kits, golf balls, etc. Please don’t cheapen our relationship by giving them to us. And in some companies, we can’t accept gifts and it puts US in a bad position. Leave the merchandise in the car.

    Dinners fall into the same category. Given our overburdened schedule, it’s hard to make time in the evening for a dinner. If we have a lunch meeting, let’s do it in the office and bring some nice sandwich wraps.

    We know this puts you in a bit of a bind because you are supposed to spend time with us developing a relationship. We’d rather focus on the business challenges together in developing relationships.
  • RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs – we are issuing “request for” documents to get additional items of information on an effort. We know suppliers abhor these documents unless they wrote them. Please recognize your response is important and take the time to put together a nice package. We know when suppliers are simply going through the motions.
  • End Runs – Suppliers are adept at working relationships at all levels. We understand this. When we tell you “GAME OVER” and you escalate around us, you do so at your own peril.