Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting Along With Vendors – They Are Our Best Friends

This is the fourth post based on the keynote I delivered at the Ingram SMBA in Charlotte in late August. The topic revolves around the VAR relationship with vendors. Too often we tend to see it as a confrontational relationship. That is exactly the opposite of the way it should be if we want to succeed. All relationships need to be win-win and this one in particular. Vendors can help you in many ways, so consider these thoughts:

Consolidate purchasing to fewer vendors

There is power in buying from few vendors. A few years ago HTS purchased from 166 different vendors in a given year. It was no wonder our ordering was complex, RMA’s were impossible, tech support for our team was overwhelming, and our bottom line was certainly challenged. By limiting the number of vendors you work with, you can drive more sales which is what gets you noticed by and ultimate supported by vendors. They work with people who sell their stuff. So by consolidation you can help make it a deeper engagement.

Learn who your assigned reps are

This takes some effort, but it can be done. You need to know who supports your account at your key vendors. That includes field resources, inside sales people, marketing managers, and anyone else who is charged with working with your company or companies like yours. This takes a little Sherlock Holmes investigation and persistence, but it can make a huge difference when you are working on a special deal or want some type of interaction.

Understand their compensation plan

The single most important question to ask your vendor reps is how they are compensated. Without that you are shooting in the dark. You need to know if they are aligned though their comp model with your needs. If not you are fighting a losing battle. You need to look for additional resources in the company that do align to your model and customer focus. If so you need to work hard to help they succeed. Everyone responds to success with compensation. People do the things that cause them to be paid more. So find those out and do them.

Participate in their programs

Many partners don’t realize that most vendor reps have a number of areas they are measured in their compensation plan. Often getting partners activated and engaged fits in there somehow. While VARs often see the meetings, trainings and events as very optional, for a vendor rep they often are a significant metric toward their comp plan. So support your rep – find out again how they are paid and make sure you are there if participation is a factor.

Provide them customer evidence

Another area that likely impacts vendor compensation is the ability to generate customer evidence that shows their engagement with partners. Companies need a pipeline of evidence to drive their marketing engine, so it is important to be proactive and provide that to your rep on a regular basis. Strong case studies and evidence also rapidly gets passed up through the management ranks as it makes the field reps look like they are doing a great job out there supporting their partners and joint customers. So take the time, be disciplined, and capture evidence that can help everyone look good. It also makes great marketing material for you to use internally as well so it is another win-win opportunity.

Get your team trained and certified

This is a critical part of building a deep vendor relationship. Most vendors are looking for signs of commitment to their products and solutions and nothing spells committed quite like making significant training investments in your team. Often you can get help from the vendor in defraying the costs, but you need to be focused on making time and availability to get it done and keep it current.

Know their partner success model

Every vendor has a different model for their partners to use in order to succeed. Their partner programs vary and are all over the board in terms of commitments, benefits and requirements. But it is up to us as a partner to understand those programs and leverage them to build strong relationships. Most of the time they are pretty good and lead a partner to success with the particular vendor. So get involved and engaged and learn and follow the playbook.

Spend time planning with them quarterly

It is important to spend time planning with your vendors on a regular basis. I believe an annual plan is critical, and then quarterly reviews to measure and tweak it make it valuable to all. There are many ways to develop these plans. We use an offsite annual retreat to tackle the process. Vendor reps from our key partner organizations are at the table together with our management team to lay out the plan for the next year. We have found that model to be very valuable to both HTS and our vendor partners because everyone sees and understand the focus and initiative we will be following. Having routine follow-up and ROI reporting is critical to keep that going, but it is worth the effort.

So now you have some ideas on how to engage vendors effectively. Make it your intention to build deep and profitable relationships with your vendors. It can make a significant impact on your bottom line and really lead to more success. They truly are not the enemy, and should be treated as a valuable asset to your company.

1 comment:

Ted Hulsy said...

Great comments on how to create a win-win relationship between VARs and vendors. Thanks Arlin.