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The Art of Buying: Getting the Most Out of Your Vendor Relationships

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If you’re responsible for procuring telecom and IT services for your organization, or if you’re on a team that is—you probably have already seen how challenging it can be to do. To begin with, many providers of any size who offer their services to medium to large buyers have built walls around their sales organizations in the form of multiple channels and a transaction-focused, quick-hit sales mindset.
You may be thinking, “That’s nuts; I’m inundated with calls from sales reps!” but if you’re not actively buying what they’re selling at that moment, they fade away in search of low hanging fruit, and high turnover in their companies means that the Susie Sunshine person who called you last year isn’t there when you finally need what Susie was selling.
I see it often amongst my peers in the consultant community with posts on the distribution list reading, “Does anyone have a good contact at XYZ company I can work with to accomplish ____?” If Susie’s sales leadership focused on long-term relationships, she’d been working to build a connection and relationship with you. So that when you were ready, you’d be able to make the transaction happen easily.
But Susie wasn’t thinking about sales continuity, and now here you are, in need of whatever-it-is in telecom or IT land. What can you do?
One solution is to reach out to your peers: IT or telecom buyers in companies of a similar size to yours. If you do, bear in mind that no one’s going to be totally honest about their buying experience because no one wants to admit they had challenges. But it’s a place to start.
Another option is to contact a consultant or consulting firm, perhaps by seeking input from your peers. In the spirit of transparency, I am a consultant, and word of mouth is one way we obtain new clients. Consultants are in the business of supporting businesses that need telecom or IT services, and we normally have a long list of suppliers we know and trust. After all, if we make a match between a client (you) and a supplier and it goes pear-shaped, it’s our reputation on the line. So we vet very, very carefully, and we share our experiences with our peers.
So you’ve followed one or two of those suggested steps, and you’ve got the attention of Susie Sunshine, who represents a company with a good reputation and has access to the product or service in which you’re interested. It should be smooth sailing from there — right? Not necessarily. You’ll want to get the best out of your buyer/seller interactions, so follow these three strategies, and don’t forget to listen to your intuition.
First, in your initial discussions, be very clear and upfront about what you’re trying to accomplish with the product or service you’re seeking. Too often, buyers withhold key decision criteria from reps to protect themselves from “being sold to” or being pushed into a decision. It’s much more efficient if there’s an open and honest discussion about what's needed, the budget, the decision-makers and influencers, and what they want. You’ll waste less of your time and Susie’s. You'll also get to the sales decision more quickly. Plus, it builds trust if both parties are open in their communication.
Second, remember the motivation of the representative is going to drive their behavior. If Susie is measured on the dollar value of the sale and speed to complete the transaction, she’ll be inclined to pressure you to decide quickly and on the highest dollar solution. If you’ve researched your desired solution set carefully, you’ll be able to easily steer Susie back to the exact solution you’ve got in mind. And since you’ll be able to quickly get to contract review (vs. endless presentations and proposals), Susie will get her reward more quickly.
Last, be sure to have an escalation path. You’ll want to know who Susie reports to and make sure they’ve met you, either in person or virtually. Sometimes you’ll discover a partway into the negotiation that Susie perhaps doesn’t have your best interests at heart, or worse, is behaving in a way that impedes your progress to a successful outcome—and you’ll want to have an avenue to pursue. If Susie shields you from her leadership, that’s a red flag.
Vendor relationships can and should be mutually rewarding. The right supplier benefits your business, and you, theirs. Once you’ve laid the groundwork for a good and trusting working relationship with a supplier, you shouldn’t need to shop around for others unless you feel like spending that time and energy. Good for you, good for Susie!

Linda is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.