Over the last several months, in this column and in other articles, we’ve made a number of references to vendor relationships. Often, it’s to make a point in which the vendors come off looking, well, not so good. In fairness to the vendor community we should acknowledge that it takes two to make a relationship, and it may be worth a moment to examine our own roles as customers.
Some years ago, when printing business was scarce, printers were offering very attractive deals to companies like ours. However, at one point we found ourselves in a situation where the service we were getting from our printer was not what we expected. Instead of simply berating the printer or taking our business elsewhere, our president – a man who believes in good customer-supplier relations as well as healthy profits – reviewed our printing deal and concluded it was too good; our printer could not make a realistic margin on the deal. He put this to the printer and recommended a price increase, along with our service expectations. As you might guess, those expectations were met and exceeded.
Successful business relationships are generally built around the desire of both parties for a win-win outcome. This means that each party is motivated to ensure the other is successful. It seems that one of the most often neglected steps in vendor negotiations is that which is required to determine what win-win looks like. In this, the CIO has prime responsibility since, presumably, it’s your objectives that led to these discussions. It’s you who will define business success in the context of this initiative. And it’s you who will decide what nature of relationship you want – how close, how long.
When you’re negotiating with a vendor, particularly if the negotiations are beginning to get difficult, your ability to be open about why you are having difficulty over a particular issue can lead to surprising results. If the vendor understands your political environment and the internal issues that may be preventing you from taking the vendor’s proposed course, they are more likely to be open about their own motivation, giving both of you more to work with in finding a solution; one that serves the best interests of you both.
Whether you view vendors as partners or as a necessary evil may be a problem for vendors to fix. But it could also be a reflection of you as a customer.
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