Whether you are working in a complete custom software development shop with little vendor interaction or a technology integration shop with vendor solutions integrated with other vendor solutions on top of yet other vendor solutions, you will have to manage vendor relationships to some degree as an IT manager in a MidWestern company. This series looks at the complex arena of IT vendor management and offers some tips to make the arduous process a bit less arduous and possibly discover some additional benefits along the way.
Vendor Management Categories
- Sales Cycle and Pricing
In the previous article, we looked at the perspective that you are in no position/need/want to buy anything at this time yet the next sales cycle is rapidly approaching. The following options were presented:
- Answer the phone with: ”Go away, I’m busy.”
- Everything goes to voicemail with no follow-up
- Scam free lunch: “Sure, let’s go to lunch and talk about whatever and then I’ll mention I don’t/can’t buy anything.”
- Direct and to the point: “Appreciate the call, but I’m not interested in anything at this time.”
We concluded that Option 1 and 2 hurt your ability to leverage the Vendor Sales Cheese’s assistance in the future when you might need quick access to senior, competent vendor technical resources due to the Vendor Sales Cheese placing a high value on people and relationships over logic.
Option 3 = Scam free lunch
Recommendation = avoid option 3 unless you have a high degree of confidence you will be buying something in the near future or have some useful customer information to share with the Vendor Sales Cheese
Sure, getting out of the office for a brief escape with all expenses paid by your Vendor Sales Cheese including the added sense of elevated importance as you are treated like a real customer sounds great; especially after being kicked around by the typical MidWestern IT political bureaucracy. Part of the relationship maintenance burden that comes with being a Vendor Sales Cheese is to keep tabs on how their customers are doing. Doing in the sense of looking for any opportunity to inject them selves into the pain reduction, “we have a solution for that problem”, drumming up another deal capacity. Even if the Vendor Sales Cheese pitch is “hey, not looking to sell you anything. I just want to get together and see how things are going …”, be prepared for the conversation to steer towards “the deal”. You can’t fault the Vendor Sales Cheese; it is their job to bring in new sales. But, you will quickly get labeled as “Bob, the free lunch guy” if you develop a pattern of getting together for the free lunch without having anything to offer the Vendor Sales Cheese in the meeting exchange. As “Bob, the free lunch guy”, you will under mine your priority in the vendor’s mind as a strong customer resource and thus reducing the ability to reach out for extra technical help from the Vendor Sales Cheese when you critically need it.
Sure, a free lunch now and again isn’t going to solidify you as “Bob, the free lunch guy”; but make sure you have something useful for the Vendor Sales Cheese to bring with you to the lunch meeting. What are some examples of something useful? If you have knowledge of a current or pending re-organization plan, share the high level details that gives the Vendor Sales Cheese an up to date understanding of how the customer is positioning itself to leverage the vendor’s technology. Note; don’t spill any specifics that you can’t share with anyone at the office or outside the office. If you have knowledge of recently announced marketing plans that will drive up customer usage in a particular product that is leveraging the vendor’s technology, again, feel free to share the externally approved marketing details. Get ready for the sales cycle discussion, especially if your licensing model is user count or user seat based. Make sure you are clear to the Vendor Sales Cheese that these are marketing projections of increased sales and until the sales are real, no formal new licensing discussions can occur. In this knowledge sharing example, you both win. The Vendor Sales Cheese gets some positive news to take back to his sales management on potential future sales. You legitimately have indicated the very plausible need for additional licenses in the near future if, indeed, the marketing projections turn out to be correct. In short:
You = raise your level on the Vendor Sales Cheese’s priority list
Vendor Sales Cheese = useful information to take back to his sales management as well as a placeholder for possible future sales projection
Option 4 = Direct and to the point
Recommendation = Unless you have information that can directly translate into real, useful information for the Vendor Sales Cheese, this is your best option
I can’t count the number of times I’ve received positive feedback from Vendor Sales Cheese that I’ve worked with over a good portion of time (multiple yearly sales cycles) that have shared with me their appreciation for the “direct and to the point” response to the “catch up” query. The closer to the end of the sales cycle, the more pressure the Vendor Sales Cheese is under to bring in as many sales as possible. Many have shared the frustration of thinking they have a lead and after investing a good amount of energy, get frustrated at seeing their investment disappear into a “Bob, the free lunch guy”.
So, you pass on the free lunch, you don’t waste the Vendor Sales Cheese’s time, so what else makes this a solid response? In a word: respect. Any strong, experienced Vendor Sales Cheese will recognize that you respect their role in the vendor management spectrum and will return the favor with equal respect. They may offer some insight into what is driving the pricing constructs behind your next proposal or other bits of inside information for “the next deal”. It may not be earth shatteringly helpful. It may not be 40, 50, or 60% off the next order. But, you will find your discussions and negotiations will be ever more direct, matter of fact and to the point rather than slick and filled with confusing sales speak.
Ok, respect the Vendor Sales Cheese role, how does this really factor into pricing in any way? Look for the next article to pick up where this article left off with more MidWestern IT perspectives on the topic of the “Sales Cycle and Pricing” in the spectrum of vendor management.