Think tech partners, not vendors

The days of technology buyers treating their tech providers as "vendors" are gone. Learn the mutual benefits of treating your technology providers as partners.
Written by Forrester Research, Contributor

Technology buyers often seek purchases from one vendor because -- as the saying goes -- they want "one throat to choke." This phrase always bothered me. You don't want this relationship to be adversarial, so don't start off with such incendiary language. 

Relations between technology providers and their customers have long been on the hairy edge between love and hate. The reasons we are in this situation include, but are not limited to: 

  • Aggressive vendors. Let's face it, some tech companies have well-earned predatory reputations. We all know who they are -- 'nuf said. I assure you not all tech companies are like them. It's not always possible to divorce yourself from evil vendors, but try your best to send your money elsewhere. 

  • Aggressive salespeople. Even good companies sometimes hire bad people in sales. They will employ high-pressure tactics as if they were the stereotypical used car salesman. I'm an engineer, so I don't know what they teach in business school, but I sure hope they don't teach this kind of aggressive behavior. Tech vendors need to shift to more of a customer engagement model than a purely classic sales perspective. A kinder, gentler engagement approach works far better. I'm very happy to work for a company that does this. Overly aggressive salespeople don't last long in a great company. 

  • Stupid customers. I know this is incendiary language itself, but I want to point out that we are all human, and all humans are idiots. I've done stupid things, and so have you -- don't even try to deny that! Customers often don't know what they really need, but they think they know what they want. These are very different demands. They end up demanding the wrong things from vendors that need to give customers what they want if they want to remain solvent. This is a slippery slope. If vendors cater to idiots, they deliver products for idiots. Vendors need to push customers just hard enough to yield real forward progress, but not so hard that they drive away business opportunities. 

  • Aggressive customers. That old saying "the customer is always right" emboldens buyers to treat vendors unfairly. You need not agree with them, and you likely need to negotiate firmly but treat them with respect. Vendors employ people who are simply trying to make a living just like you and me. I believe the customer is not always right. Some customers buy based on their own distorted view of the world, which takes us back to the prior bullet. I know many people who make purchase decisions based on their own self-interests. For example, billions of dollars were spent on monitoring tools over the past 25 years with one goal in mind: exoneration. "I just want to prove my stuff is not the problem." That's terrible. When confronted by such aggressive customers, vendors naturally retrench to a defensive posture that escalates the tension. 

Think tech partners, not vendors 

To move to a better state of business relations, stop calling these companies "vendors" right now. That word evokes thoughts that can be toxic to a good relationship. Think of them as partners. That's what they are. You each have a vested interest in your joint success. A partner makes you stronger, and you will spend more money with them. That makes them stronger, so they can more effectively help you. It's a classic win-win situation. A vendor merely wants your money; a partner wants your success. 

I often talk to tech company leaders about trust. Customer trust is everything. If customers trust you, you get their money. The basic unit of trust is a promise. To build trust, you need to make promises -- and keep them. A promise kept will incrementally increase trust. A broken promise could destroy trust in an instant. Nobody can keep unrealistic promises: Don't make them, and don't demand them. With solid trust comes respect, and that yields a good partnership. 

With a partner, you are not looking for one throat to choke. You seek one hand to shake. Start with that, and demand the same from your providers. Embrace partners, and shun vendors. The litmus test is trust. 

In the current COVID-19 atmosphere, you can't actually shake hands, so maybe a virtual wave through your webcam will have to do for now. I look forward to returning to a world where you can again reach out to your tech partner and enjoy a hearty physical handshake. Good relations will come from that, I assure you! Both you and your partner will thrive -- together! 

This post was written by VP and Research Director Glenn O'Donnell, and it originally appeared here

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