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…or are they just another vendor trying to get as much of your IT and Marketing budget as possible?
I am not a huge fan of being referred to as a ‘vendor’. It just doesn’t feel right to me. I never really planned to be in Sales but I found myself in the middle of it 9 years ago and time flies when you’re having fun so here I am …still having fun. But, being referred to as a ‘vendor’ still doesn’t sound right to me. Sure, we have plenty of clients that prefer to view us as just another ‘vendor’ and we certainly make those relationships work. But, it sure is a lot more fun and successful to have long-term, trusted, partnership arrangements. It’s a win-win for both parties. Just as our clients need to outsource Web services to us, we have the occasional need to outsource areas of support services to ‘vendors’ as well. It is nice when the vendor becomes a true partner in our business. We have a ‘vendor’ turned ‘partner’ working on some PR projects for us and it sure is a good situation. It does require trust, a track record of success, and a healthy return on investment…but it should be a goal to strive for!!!
It may sound corny, trite, square and lame to say this but I am very proud of the fact that Beacon considers a customer’s best interest when evaluating solutions. I have been at Beacon for 9 years and I know the ins/outs of our company. I work on the sales and marketing side of the business. I know how we operate and how we think and how we plan. We are ethical in our dealings with our customers and that has been a consistent theme over the years. This strategy often means that I recommend simpler, less expensive solutions when appropriate. It happens often here. We have ‘scope’ meetings when developing new proposals and it is always about creating the best solution to meet the client’s requirements, needs, budget, and long-term business plans. We are always trying to consider cost effective ways to accomplish objectives. We are fortunate to have a relatively healthy and steady stream of business coming through the door. This stream of business is likely an important factor that allows us to think more about the client’s best interest than our own. It enables us to not oversell! It allows us to pass on many opportunities that are truly not the right fit for the customer and/or for Beacon.
This philosophy is vital to our long-term business and sales strategy. The better we treat our customers and even a prospective client (even those that never will become a client), the better our reputation, the better our references, the better our brand and the better our long-term success.
We have not always made perfect decisions. Over the past 9 years we have certainly proposed and developed strategies and solutions that did not return favorably for our clients. It happens on occasion. But, we at least truly care about limiting those situations to a very few. It is too personal to have a client fail.
I receive many of the inbound calls from prospective clients here at Beacon. I really enjoy consulting prospects (even when I know that we are not the right fit). Many of these calls are from individuals that want to build an eCommerce website and start ‘making money’. I receive TONS of these calls!!! Often, these callers have little retail expertise but they think eCommerce is an easy way to make money…so they are asking us to build them an a website. I have some standard questions to talk thru with them and I can quickly gauge the person’s level of expertise and acumen towards running an eCommerce business. Several of these prospects have done extensive homework and are ready to invest in a long-term strategy while many more have no idea the level of effort required to succeed online. The most telling question to ask is, “Once you build this wonderful new ecommerce site, how do you plan to market the site and drive traffic?” This is when I can really tell if someone is serious or just dreaming about making easy money. I like to discuss the various marketing strategies, options and budgets at this time to help them understand that it is not a simple investment. It requires a true business plan. I then recommend that the dreamers start studying more about online marketing. I refer them to various sites and we often stay in touch as they learn more about the complexities of implementing an eCommerce business plan. I like to think that I have saved many people some valuable money over the years.
Bottom line: Retail eCommerce sites can be successful but they require a very serious and focused marketing plan to drive qualified traffic. You also need a quality Web Analytics package to analyze revenue and ROI by traffic sources — plenty more to discuss but this is a good start!
ALSO — I enjoyed reading the following Questions and Responses posed by Rob Preston at Network Computing, http://www.networkcomputing.com
In this era of ROI culpability at IT organizations, vendors are almost programmed to pitch “solutions” to your technical and business problems, not just products. They say they want a stake in your success and the long-term prosperity of your organization, not just a chunk of your IT budget. These assurances, of course, often ring insincere–like when the car dealer endeavors to “satisfy your transportation needs” when he simply wants to sell you a loaded SUV. So how do you sort the stand-up vendors from the slick pretenders?
Before deciding whether the outfit you’re currently engaging is really “strategic partner” material, ask yourself the following questions:
• Does the prospective vendor ask probing questions about your business goals and technical requirements, or does it barge in with all the alleged answers based on a cursory understanding of what you need?
One IT director at a fast-growing enterprise tells of the vendor sales rep who refused to acknowledge that the software he was peddling wasn’t a clean fit for the customer’s data analysis initiative. Had the salesman been more flexible and consultative–had he bothered to listen to the customer’s extensive expansion plans–the vendor could have anticipated plenty of additional opportunities to sell into that organization, the director says. Instead, the vendor is now mercator non grata at that organization, a victim of its own shortsightedness.
• Does the prospective vendor try to sell you the store when all your organization wants and needs is a few key items? Cisco, for instance, is a topflight networking-systems vendor, but every customer doesn’t need to migrate to its voice-over-IP architecture. The likes of Oracle, SAP, SAS and Siebel make fine software, but just because their products fall into the broad CRM category doesn’t mean those products can be slotted or retrofitted into every customer-facing initiative. Seek out vendors that solve problems first and then look to extend the relationship on top of those initial successes.
• Is your integrator prepared to recommend a system or service of a nonaffiliated vendor, or is it predisposed to recommending only those products sold by its stable of partners? Is your integrator open about its relationships with other product vendors?
The big consulting firms are regularly criticized for such conflicts of interest, particularly on enterprise software projects, but just about every IT service provider is guilty of bringing in its cohorts at one time or another. Clearly, the service providers you want to engage are those willing to ruffle the feathers of their vendor constituents to do what’s in your organization’s best interests.
• Do prospective vendors regularly go over your head–to the CIO, the CEO or your department head–when they’re not making headway with you? More important to your standing within your organization, do such tactics ever succeed?
Brent Zempel, CIO of health club operator Life Time Fitness, tells of the time Larry Ellison approached Life Time’s CEO with a proposal to replace the company’s homegrown customer-service system and the people who built and manage it with an Oracle application and team–a scheme the CEO eventually passed on (and which, no doubt, did wonders for Oracle’s standing among Life Time’s IT rank and file). If the buck on IT decisions really stops with you and your organization, smart vendors will work within that structure.
It’s a Two-Way Street
Remember, though, that acting like a partner isn’t just a vendor’s responsibility. You must reciprocate. Beating your vendor into submission on price, for instance, may help you pull off a project and enhance your standing with the bean counters, but it’s no way to forge a long-term partnership. What goes around comes around.
I HOPE THIS BLOG POST WAS HELPFUL!
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. It is my first and I plan to improve and provide more valuable information during 2008!