Vendors: Partners or Salespeople?

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I got a great e-mail from a friend that asked about how he could foster a better relationship with his vendors. So many times when you work with a vendor it’s more of a used-car sales experience than a partnership – but you can actually make your vendor more of a partner, as long as you both set some ground-rules at the start. Sit down with your vendor, and have a heart-to-heart talk with them, explain that they won’t win every time, but that you’re willing to work with them in an honest way on both sides.

Here’s the advice I sent him verbatim. I hope this post generates lots of comments from both customers and vendors. I don’t expect that you’ve had a great experience with your Microsoft reps, but I happen to work with some of the best sales teams in the business, and our clients tell us that all the time.

The key to this relationship is to keep the audience really small. Ideally there should be one person from your side that is responsible for the relationship, and one from the vendor’s side. Each responsible person should have the authority to make decisions, and to bring in other folks as needed for a given topic, project or decision.

 

For Microsoft, this is called an “Account Manager” – they aren’t technical, they aren’t sales. They “own” a relationship with a company. They learn what the company does, who does it, and how. They are responsible to understand what the challenges in your company are. While they don’t know the bits and bytes of everything we sell, they know what each thing does, and who to talk to about it. I get a call from an Account Manager every week that has pre-digested an issue at an organization and says to me: “I need you to set up an architectural meeting with their technical staff to get a better read on how we can help with problem X.” I do that and then report back to the Account Manager what we learned.  All through this process there’s the atmosphere of a “team”, not a “sales opportunity” per se. I’ve even recommended that the firm use a rival product, and I’ve never gotten push-back on that decision from my Account Managers.

 

But that brings up an interesting point. Someone pays an Account Manager and pays me. They expect something in return. At some point, you have to buy something. Not every time, not every situation – sometimes it’s just helping you with what you already bought from us. But the point is that you can’t expect lots of love and never spend any money. That’s the way business works.

 

Finally, don’t view the vendor as someone with their hand in your pocket – somebody that’s just trying to sell you something and doesn’t care if they ever see you again – unless they deserve it. There are plenty of “love them and leave them” companies out there, and you may have even had this experience with us, but that isn’t the case in the firms I work with. In fact, my customers get a questionnaire that asks them that exact question. “How many times have you seen your account team? Did you like your interaction with them? Can they do better?” My raises, performance reviews and general standing in my group are based on the answers the company gives.  Ask your vendor if they measure their sales and support teams this way – if not, seek another vendor to partner with.

 

Partnering with someone is a big deal. It involves time and effort on your part, and on the vendor’s part. If either of you isn’t pulling your weight, it just won’t work. You have every right to expect them to treat you as a partner, and they have the same right for your side.”

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  • Thanx for the explanation of the Account Manager. I don't know all the details about their job, but at least i now know the basics of what they do. (I was actually wondering what "owning the account" means.)

    >But the point is that you can’t expect lots of love and never spend any money.

    I seem to remember some movie from the 80s.

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