Great Clients Get Great Service!
DJ Wardynski, President - Brainspire Solutions
In Collaboration with Chief Technology Consultants, Inc. (CTCi)
How can you get your vendors and service providers to over-perform for you? One way to receive their best service and better results is to become their favorite client. As a technology executive, you want to be the one they bend over backwards to help, and that they do it because they understand that your leadership and company practices have a direct impact on their performance.
So why is it important to be a great client? The bottom line is that great clients get:
- More projects delivered on time
- More projects delivered on budget
- Better quality
- Better deals
- Better consistency
- The benefit of the doubt
Are you a good client?
Put another way, are you (and your teams) someone who vendor-partners (consulting firms, strategy firms, staffing firms, managed service provider, software companies, etc.) want to work with and enjoy working with?
Take a look at your previous and current relationships, engagements, and practices. Examine your engagements to determine whether your leadership style and company culture make it easy or difficult for vendors to succeed for you. Hopefully your interactions with your vendors are collaborative and produce the ROI you expect. If you’ve consistently had productive engagements and relationships, chances are you are a good client and your company is conducive to vendor engagement and getting the most value. But if your projects are constantly delayed and over-budget, if you always seem to disagree about deliverables or if there is high turnover in vendor staff, perhaps there are some areas for improvement. If you want better results from vendor-partner engagements, look at the relationship from their perspective. Do your part and become a better client.
You Need Great Vendors
Few organizations can afford to employ all of the expertise needed to be successful, even when that expertise can be found. The truth is that your organization probably needs specific outside assistance, occasionally or on an ongoing basis, to reach its goals. Engaging outside vendors for their expertise and value will help educate and train your staff and bring fresh ideas to your organization. Let your partners live up to their promises. And recognize that no organization is perfect or executes flawlessly every time. Hold them accountable, but don’t beat them up.
It’s likely that your first introduction to a vendor will come from one of their salespeople. Don’t assume that because your first contact has the title of “Account Executive”, “Business Development Manager” or even “Vice President of Sales” that they are trying to “take your money.” Most sales professionals want to provide great service at a competitive price, address your issues, and be a conduit to valuable information. If a vendor’s pitch interests you, get to know the salesperson and their leadership. A clear understanding of their organizational goals, growth plans, successes and challenges from the top down can pay off in the long run.
Talk with your own company’s salespeople and sales leaders to understand what they go through when they deal with clients. Your jaw may drop when you hear the stories about their bad experiences with customers. Hopefully their stories won’t resemble how you deal with people who are trying to earn your trust.
Money is Only One Part
You should want your best and proven vendors to be profitable – not completely as a result of your budget, but successful nonetheless. If a reputable vendor earns realistic profit from your business and their other clients, they should invest in new services, staff growth, research, and best practices, which will ultimately benefit you. Understand where they are growing and investing their profit. And expect moderate fee increases from time to time, since vendors’ operating costs increase, just as your costs increase. The increases shouldn’t be large. Still, remember that for any business to remain viable, it must remain profitable.
One of the easiest ways to be a good client in the eyes of your vendors is to pay your invoices according to your negotiated contract. Your vendors are not your banker and shouldn’t be expected to provide your business with what amounts to a short-term loan. If a payment is going to be significantly late, let your vendor know what’s going on within your business. Don’t make them wonder whether they are going to be paid for their work.
Support Up, Down and Across
If you have a proven vendor who has demonstrated their partnering ability, have you introduced them to your bosses, peers and key team members? Get support for them throughout your organization. It’s amazing how much extra effort you’ll get when vendors feel like they are an important piece of your strategic goals. Instead of treating them like an outsider by adopting an “us vs. them” mentality, treat them as part of the team. You hired them to solve a problem, and they want to solve it for you. They want to feel like you are both in it together, and that you will both succeed as a team. Great vendors and service providers will bend over backwards to impress if they know the relationship has complete support across your organization and that that everyone has high expectations. They will want to make you look good to provide justification for your decision to engage them. It will also give you a chance to demonstrate your relationship and team-building skills to other executives within your company.
Don’t neglect how your employees treat vendor personnel, and don’t assume that your vendors always feel welcome. Many great potential strategic partnerships have been sabotaged by a few staff members (or even one individual) who feels threatened. View it as an opportunity to evaluate how well your team members work with others. Make sure your team members know why an outsider is being brought in and what the expectations are.
Another critical aspect of any successful vendor relationship is, of course, the contract. If your partnership with the vendor is critical, make sure your legal department understands the importance of the relationship. Everyone knows that contracts must be reviewed by lawyers to protect a company’s interests, but a good working contract should not be one-sided or redlined to the extreme. This only proves that your lawyers went to law school.
If you work for a large organization, you may have to leverage a vendor management organization (perhaps a third party) or involve your Procurement Department. Make sure the strategic goals of the VMO or Procurement Department and your business unit are in alignment. Find out how these departments treat your vendor-partners and consultants, and understand the policies they put in place. Procurement departments and VMOs generally receive bonuses for cost savings. Cutting $5 - $10 per hour off a bill rate may meet Procurement’s metrics, but it can adversely affect the quality of the consultant you are getting and the quality of the deliverables that technology executives are measured on.
Honesty, Transparency and Trust
Set the tone with your vendors regarding transparency, honesty and trust (and implement a mutual Confidentiality / Nondisclosure Agreement). If you expect them to bring issues and challenges to your attention, tell them up front. Conversely, be honest and transparent with them about your company’s strengths, challenges and issues as you come to trust them. Don’t just hope that they’ll figure it out. Get to know what they are best at and what they are trying to improve within their own organization. Ask them what they don’t do well. Be careful about someone who says they “can do it all.” You’ll both get to productivity quicker and build a better partnership over time through trust and transparency. A great firm will want to learn everything about your business so they can help you where they can.
Give feedback often. Tell your vendors when they are doing a good job and where they can improve in a constructive manner. Realize that no organization or person is perfect (even if you pay them top dollar), but expect them to strive for excellence. A great vendor partner should admit when they screw up, just as a great client should admit when they could have done better.
The best client executives have the common courtesy to return phone calls and emails. While you can’t possible correspond with all the unknown solicitors vying for your time, your key partners will appreciate the communication. Be a good client, and respond in a timely manner to people who are actually working for your organization.
If you’ve done your due diligence and a vendor relationship is progressing as planned, there is no better reward than customer loyalty. You will find you can move on to other critical issues by continuing to leverage a service provider who has earned your trust. Loyalty helps both businesses grow and be more successful. And you will get better deals and quality in the long run. If your vendor-partner is a significant part of your planned budget, let them know what you are planning to spend with them. They will appreciate the information up front and will work hard to help you hit your numbers by staying within their budget.
Usually, if a vendor is successful in one area, they have a good chance of becoming successful with new service offerings or approaches. The wise executive will give a loyal vendor the opportunity to prove themselves in new areas, perhaps via a small or less-strategic initiative as a beta customer.
While loyalty is admirable, it’s also important for the executive to be open from time to time to new vendors who are trying to prove themselves. Don’t be afraid to give newcomers, perhaps a smaller niche company, a chance to compete for a small piece of your business. Competition keeps everyone honest and sharp. Not only will you get a fresh perspective, but the competition will likely be good for your established provider. It may force them to reconsider their approach, employee training or service level agreements. However, be honest with your long-time vendor-partner about giving others a shot. They have earned it. A good approach is to let them know that you’re not dissatisfied with their work, but the new company has worked hard and has impressive, different, new skills that you’re interested in learning more about.
The “P” Word
Do you merely have a client / vendor relationship, or are you truly “partners”? There is a difference between the two. A true partnership has mutual benefits for both organizations. Partnerships typically take time to develop and create security through consistency and true understanding of expectations. Partnerships produce better overall quality over time through consistent commitment. Partners don’t quit at the first sign of adversity, but instead are dedicated to working through unforeseen challenges. Partners don’t blame, and partners don’t “tuck tail and run”. Partners admit fault and work tirelessly to improve the situation. Partners look out for each other. They refer new business to each other and respect each other’s business plans. True partnerships are difficult to achieve, but worth the effort when you work to build a good one.
I’ve listed some of the most important characteristics of a great client. Conducting business successfully with vendors is necessary, challenging and at times even distracting, but it will pay off when you are good at it. To become great, consider your working relationship from the vendor-partner’s perspective. Executives who are best at dealing with vendor-partners are usually considered top leaders within their own organization. Leaders are leaders. Good people are good people. Those who succeed with their own teams almost always have successful partner relationships because they treat people fairly with honesty and transparency. They hold people accountable and care about other’s goals, pursuits and success. Because top executives often take an others-first approach, the return on their investment in the client / vendor relationship produces returns in multiple for their own business.
About Brainspire Solutions & DJ Wardynski
Brainspire develops custom software solutions using enterprise-level best practices to meet each client’s individual needs. We are passionate about development for evolving clients - development of people, software and solutions. Our vision is to be Denver’s most trusted software development consulting firm for organizations with lofty goals and complex challenges.
DJ Wardynski is the President and Co-Founder of Brainspire Solutions. He has been serving Colorado’s Front Range clients for more than 20 years. With his consultative approach and ability to organize productive teams, he has provided best-of-breed business solutions for clients ranging from Fortune 100 customers to start-up organizations.
Brainspire Offer & Contact Information
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know what other organizations are doing to drive successful software projects and how you compare to these companies? Brainspire is currently performing market research on organizational software development best practices. The goal is to determine which consistent practices and cultural elements have the greatest impact on project success.
If you have business initiatives dependent on successful software development projects we invite you to participate and receive the results of our study. Our research is conducted one-on-one, with technology executives over breakfast or lunch provided by Brainspire, and consists of a handful of questions about your departmental and organizational processes, methods, culture, and record of success.