Partnerships: it

Something new this time: a guest columnist. The cynical among you might say that this represents a blatant avoidance of work on my part (maybe a little bit true) or an attempt to temporarily avoid the correction of the harsh taskmaster who is my editor (“But Gail, I didn’t write that part, really.”) (also maybe a little bit true), but the main reason is simply some degree of validation: For the parts I agree with, I get to say “See, I told you so.”

I refer back to a column I wrote a number of months back about the assumptions that IT vendors and consultants make about “partnering” in business. My cynical side suggested that too many vendors’ idea of the ideal “formal business partnership” was “You get whatever I’ve got to sell (whether it’s the best solution for you or not), and in exchange, I get exclusive access to your IT budget. Oh, and yeah, I might even take your execs golfing once or twice.”

So maybe I’m wrong – it’s been known to happen: let’s see what an effective partnership looks like from the perspective of those who are in one: Colleen Pound runs the Program Management Group for ENMAX Energy in Calgary, and she says:

I want a partnership, not a one-night stand: Note to the vendor community: Make me feel that it really is all about me. And that has implications of course – I get to choose the relationship we establish. And I don’t want the launch and leave, slap and tickle, install and depart, sell and bolt type of relationship that too many of you appear to prefer. I have to live with the long-term implications of what we build together – you don’t.

Demonstrate to me that if I fail, you fail too – it isn’t just a matter of sales revenue or fee dollars – prove that our success matters in your organization as well as in mine – don’t be pointing to your statement of work and saying “That’s it, no more”. And don’t assume that as long as it works the day you leave, you are absolved from the responsibility of addressing any hiccups that may occur after that moment.

Sure, we can take the time and spend the money to negotiate very formal commercial arrangements, maintenance contracts, and rigid service level agreements, but how come they always seem to feel like they’re more about protecting your interests than mine?

Work with all of us, not just the “friendly executive” some of us: Understand who we are (all of us) first: I know we’re a target account for you, that you’re trying to separate the real buyers here from those that have influence, from the lower level staff who you can conveniently ignore.

And we know you’re trying to drive the numbers, firm up the sales funnel, reduce sales costs and shorten the sales cycle, but you know what? You may be doing yourself more harm than good. This may come as a surprise to you, but we know how you’re given incentive – we know how your commission and bonus structures work, and we know who gets paid for doing what.

You want to be successful here? You may just have to do a lot of work that doesn’t pay off in the short term, that doesn’t boost your bonus in the next quarter or maybe even the next year, that doesn’t involve schmoozing the big guys.

For instance, my organization is full of stakeholders who have expectations of the product or service you’re selling, and you need to understand all of their perspectives – not just the execs who have the budgets, not just the guys you golf with, and not just the part of my organization that really likes you guys. Part of your delivery to me includes making me look good within my organization, and that includes my peers, direct reports as well as my boss.

All the folks in my organization who will have to live with the implications of a decision to use your product or service have to be consulted; even the guys who don’t necessarily like what you’re selling – you’d better find out why.

The stakeholder list here is long my friend, and it includes a lot of people who often aren’t on your target contacts list – you’ve never invited them to your golf tournament, they’re not qualified to be at your executive briefing session, you won’t run into them in the Maple Leaf Lounge in Pearson, and they’re not the ones you send thank you gifts to at Christmas.

Ignore these people at your peril – we may agree that their expectations for your product or service are unrealistic or inconsistent with the rest of the organization, but they have to be respected, and their expectations have to managed in any case.

Bottom line: we do want to be your partner, and by we I mean all of us. We want to trust you, we want to know and see evidence that our success is in your best interest. And that means a lot more than wining and dining and golfing with our execs so that you make your quarterly numbers.

Thank you Colleen – I suspect that there are a few vendors/consultants out there who have their own thoughts on the often-tumultuous relationship between vendor and customer in the IT world – more on that later.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at