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The Vendor Dance: Mutual, Respectful, Valuable

In technology leadership today, relationship-building is a critical component supporting transformational and long-term success. From adding meaningful value given our seat at the executive table through engaging our most tech-wary users from remote corners of our own business, authenticity and reciprocity is key. It would be in our best interest for this to extend to our relationships with vendors as well.

I can remember when I first started receiving vendor calls. This occurred when I made the leap from developer/analyst to manager many years ago. My immature response was immediate annoyance, avoidance and near repulsion at the sheer gall of being contacted by a (insert snide tone) sales person.

Silly me.

Since that time I’ve matured, learned more and embraced the circle of life surrounding effective technology management.

As we continuously move in a direction of creating less while providing more with increasingly stretched resources, vendors often serve as the technological glue that ensures our strategy is executed in the cleanest possible way, helping us realize our overarching vision.

But…I’m being sold?

Yes it’s true, a vendor is a sales person. It is literally their job to sell to your business and make money off of your business to generate revenue for their business. I mean, realistically as tech leadership, it’s pretty much also our job to sell technology initiatives to our business that will financially cost our business but result in the generation of value (cost savings, time savings, consumer perception, innovation) for our business. Two sides of an eerily similar coin?

The harshest reality is that sales folks have been at this ‘relationship building gig’ a whole lot longer than CIO’s as a group have.

Matt Russell, Business Development Manager for Joule Processing, says, “Part of what I love about sales is that challenge of identifying how someone likes to relate and communicate, learning about their wants and needs, and finding ways to adapt my own approach to them to grow a real relationship. This approach is critical to finding a sales solution which is beneficial to the customer, which is what any good sales person should be striving for.” Bingo. I happen to love the sales aspect of my job and now recognize that given my intent is genuine, who am I to ostracize a sales executive for enjoying the same skill?

A healthy respect of sales teams needs to be cultivated if your shop wants to move beyond operational and foundational. I’m not saying a sales person will consistently turn water into wine (unless of course that’s a technology they’re actually selling), but they can help facilitate how you dramatically improve services and solutions to your business. Vendors facilitate quick wins and more and more often they provide that connector that you should not be spending your time recreating manually.

The music starts.

The dance begins.

Here are a few ground rules.

For the CIO

  1. Never throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are simply some systems and services that should remain in-house to ensure the best possible response to your business.
  2. Decisions are a conversation, not a declarative. A savvy sales team with an amazing product WILL IN FACT sell you an entire solution that is not the right-fit for your business. As a leader, there needs to be a conversation to reach right-fit, alongside the vendor offering the bevy of right-fit solutions. If you walk in with a declarative of what you want, despite it not being the best option, a good sales team will provide you with a complete mock-up of that particular solution. They will test the waters with other (read: smarter) options, but they will sell you what you demand.
  3. Deepen the relationship. Whether you have two vendors or two hundred, continuously investing in your vendor relationships is important for sustainability, supportability and response. Remember, your vision is their account vision. Make sure they understand your goals and be persistent.

For the Vendor

  1. Don’t circumvent the technology department. If you’re not hearing from technology leadership, keep trying. We tend to go a bit scorched earth on sales folks that blanket the campus with tech sales tactics when we don’t respond promptly.
  2. Do your own research. Please don’t send me an email asking me for time to fill you in on my goals, objectives and pain-points. Look at our strategic plan, check out our public pages, and read our recent news. Contact me when you have something you think would make my job easier.
  3. Hang in there. As a sales rep, your reputation as an industry precedes you. That said, as a member of IT within a business, our reputation precedes us too. As long as you are offering a solid solution, we’ll eventually come around.

I still puff up from time to time about vendors hassling me. But it’s primarily for the benefit of the sales folks I’ve developed relationships with. They know I’m being ridiculous. And they know I appreciate their work. Most importantly, they know I know I need their expertise and offering. If you as a tech leader are still closing deals with your vendors based on how expertly they stroke your ego, you’re not doing it right. And you likely don’t even know it. You’re doing what’s best for you, not your business. Russell shares, “It amazes me how little focus is put on actually developing the relationship. When done correctly, sales happen organically. You’re not out asking ‘what do we need to do to get this done’ just to close a sale. You’re actively engaged with the customer to provide the BEST solution for their needs, as defined and identified by the customer. The best sale is always a collaboration between the two sides.” Right? What’s supposed to happen, happens.

Solution is a conversation between colleagues, not a transaction.

It’s truly a delicate dance. One that is worth the investment in our increasingly connected house-to-cloud world.