Friday, February 22, 2008

Working with Vendors

We had a great day yesterday in our HTG peer meeting sharing about business and life. One thing keeps coming up over and over the more time I spend with partners - the frustration of trying to work with vendors. I had numerous conversations with partners yesterday and most every day for that matter, about how they struggle to be connected to the vendors their very business depends on for success. It is a strange phenomenon. Vendors are very dependent upon us as partners to sell and support their products for success as well. So it really is a situation where both parties need the other to succeed. But somehow there are so many breakdowns in that relationship it just seems to be a mess for many most of the time. Partners get frustrated and jump to the next vendor thinking the grass has to be greener over there only to find the same end result. The reality is that a partner-vendor relationship is about people and that is a very complicated affair. It is really not all that different than being in a deep friendship or marriage - you have to work at it and not give up. Marriages fail because people decide it is not worth working through the problems to get to the other side. There has to be something better. Partner - vendor relationships fail for the same reasons. They consist of imperfect people who don't always do what is expected (even though those expectations are not clearly defined by either party). They consist of change in personnel and programs and direction by both companies. They are a moving target that require a lot of determination and hard work. But if I was going to sum it up in one word - success in building a vendor relationship requires one thing - COMMITMENT. From both sides - moment by moment and day by day. It is not always going to be pleasant or fun. It will be frustrating. But as partners we need to make wise choices on who we will go to market with, select a handful of go to market partners, and then make a deep commitment to get connected and stay committed to them. We can't move with every change in the wind. We have to be honest when we are frustrated and work with them to resolve it. We also need to be grateful when things are good and thankful when their products and programs have a positive impact. I hear a lot more whining than I do gratitude from the partner community. It is like vendors "owe us" or something. They don't owe us any more than we owe our customers. Certainly we don't like to think of that relationship that way. I treat my vendors like a customer, as that is what they truly are. We are blessed to have deep relationships with our key vendors - Microsoft, HP, Sonicwall, Ingram and a few others. Building those has taken many years and a lot of work, and the process never ends. People change and it is a continual process of going deeper and wider in each of those companies. But it is well worth it. We are blessed to have great vendor partners. It is a win win for both of us. It can happen. But it starts with a commitment and then rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.

1 comment:

Stuart R. Crawford said...

Hi Arlin, you are 100% correct. I have great relationships with many of my vendors. The one thing that I do that so many partners don't even think about is this.

When I travel (which I do almost as much as you) and a vendor rep is close by, I make a point of stopping by and seeing them. For example, we are a small company so we have many telephone reps like with Microsoft. I will visit the Toronto office to see my TPAM and Small Business Specialist marketing manager because that is what it takes to have a successful vendor relationship.

Being committed and not flip flopping is the only way to develop a relationship and what Steve Riat says "set the expectations up front and what you expect" and don't be afraid to be candid and open with all your vendors.

They are the lifeline to success in Small Business IT.

Stuart Crawford
Calgary, AB