Within the IT world, your vendors are your unsung heroes. In this case, I am talking about your Service Provider's, VAR’s and your MSP’s—collectively, your vendors. Your vendors guide you, make sure you're using the latest and best technologies for your environment, update you on what’s new in the IT industry and their industry, and give you unbiased opinions and recommendations on what works and what doesn’t, even if those recommendations differ with your thoughts and ideas. They're your trusted advisors and have your best interests in mind. Or do they? Let’s tackle that this month.
As IT and business needs march along, changes abound for how organizations use IT and for how vendors deliver IT services and solutions. These services are not just support and installation services, but architectural services to ensure that customers are using the right technologies and services for their specific business needs. Firms are adopting a cloud-first strategy, or on-premise cloud-like environments so they can deploy and manage IT services quickly. That's nothing new; it's been happening for years. Firms and IT departments are much less focused on IT components and technologies (except for the IT people) and care more about how IT will enable business outcomes. Exactly how it should be. Which leads to a crucial question: Do your vendors mirror that line of thinking?
Being in the business for over 24 years, I’ve seen many vendors and Service Providers evolve and make the change from firms that only sell technology to firms that provide strategic guidance for their customers to ensure their technology meets business goals. I’ve seen many that didn’t—or cannot or won't—make the transition. Some are still around; some aren’t. Selling technology is relativity easy, making sure technology meets business goals is much more difficult but is what customers need.
That’s why many Service Providers don’t make the transition and wind up stuck as a niche firm selling the same thing to the same customers, and generally the same people within those customers. There is nothing wrong with that. However, what happens when people leave, new people come to take over, or a company is sold, purchased or part of a merger? When new people in charge of IT take an objective view of the value provided by a vendor, what will they see? Will they see a vendor that is an essential strategic advisor—that word is often overused, but very fitting—or just someone that sells them technology?
Take a look at your vendors and ask yourself that question. Do you like your answer? As you continue to evolve in your initiatives and your business needs, do your vendors continue to evolve and grow as well? Do you stay with them because you like working with them? I am all for working with vendors with good working relationships, as so much of the IT world (and sales in general) is built on relationships, but do those relationships genuinely serve you well? Would you bank your IT budget and reputation on it? Do you go to bat for your vendors with your bosses? If you are working with vendors that serve you well, you would and should.
Your vendors should be guiding you on the IT industry, trends, your industry, what technologies and services you should be considering, and what you should be doing, both now and in the future, even when you don’t have money to spend. Have you seen specific vendors pop up only when you have a refresh cycle for a product or software/maintenance renewal is due? I know I’ve seen it many times and I bet you have too. That’s something that should be strongly evaluated with your vendors. I remember partnering with another Service Provider for a customer where an initiative got pushed back 6-9 months and the vendor (not the customer) postponed meetings and interactions because the customer didn't have any money to spend right now, so there was no reason to meet or talk with them. Of course, we all need to prioritize, but to postpone meeting or speaking with a customer, because they don’t have money to spend right now? Would you be happy if your vendor knowingly did that to you? I sure wouldn't. Does that sound like partnership to you or perhaps just a transactional relationship?
On the flip side, how do you treat your vendors? Do you want to talk to them on a regular basis and use their expertise to help you be better or do you only want to talk to them when you need to buy something? From our experience the “need to buy something” relationship is all about a customer that wants the lowest price. That is not a partnership and certainly not a customer looking for a strategic advisor. If that’s what you want, then bid all of your vendors for their lowest price against each other and go with that. See how that works out in the long term. At some point, your vendors will stop investing in you nor want to work with you. Do you blame them?
However, this relationship goes both ways, not just buyer/seller or seller/buyer. As I ask above, as you evolve do your vendors evolve with you? If they don’t, you might want to reconsider how you work with them or consider fire them altogether. There’s a converse to that too: Have your vendors outgrown what you are doing? Do you not want to evolve, spend money, or appreciate what a strategic advisor type relationship brings? If not, then your vendors should consider firing you. Yes, firing you. What, you say? How can a vendor fire me? If a customer is not right for a vendor anymore, they shouldn’t be working together; just as if a vendor isn’t a good fit, a customer shouldn’t be working with them. That’s just the cold, hard reality of the IT world and business today.
So what does this all mean? A strong customer/vendor relationship is key to IT success and something we should all want and aspire to achieve. That relationship should be is based upon mutual value, mutual respect, shared goals, and expectations. It should not be based only on price. Sadly, there are many firms out there that will buy solely on price—even if they say they don’t. Speaking of price: I’ve mentioned it a few times, so don’t misunderstand me. Price is important. But it’s only one consideration in evaluating a vendor. Overall value is what matters.
As you, your firm, and your initiatives evolve, your vendors and relationships with them should evolve too. When they do, you’ve got the right partnerships in place, if not then it might be time to reconsider their value and their fit to you. Sometimes that evolution can be a matter of you moving in a direction that your vendor does not, and that’s OK, such as moving to a solution your vendor doesn’t sell.
Your good/true partners will be upfront with you on what they can and cannot do (be wary of firms that say they can do everything) and will make recommendations that may or may not involve them, but they have your best interests in mind. That’s a true partner and something to keep your back pocket even if you don’t use or need them right now. Look, this isn't just being altruistic here, working with a customer or vendor makes good business sense or it doesn't. If it doesn’t, then a vendor has a responsibility and, I believe, a moral obligation to guide their customers the right way—even if it doesn't benefit them.
As you evolve, your partners may or may not evolve. In fact in many cases what you’ll see is your vendor evolves and then drags you along—in a good way—by guiding you through their evolution on solutions and services that continue to serve your best interests. You might not even know or feel it happening. That’s a partner looking out for your interests as well their own. When both intersect, it’s a win-win for everyone. Foster those relationships when you have them, as they will serve you well. Continue to evaluate your partners to see if/how they are evolving. The good ones will; others might not. You'll know it, as you probably do already.
Until next month.