Partner or Vendor – Who are you working with?

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October 01, 2014
Solution Providers
Jeffrey S Parker, CHTP

When I started writing this, I was pretty unhappy with a partner. If you want to have partners, you need to be a partner. I know it sounds obvious but many partnerships fall apart because both sides are not communicating. So sit down on the couch, and we will try some couple’s therapy, or at least try to identify the places where things can be fixed in these relationships.


Partnership is a word used by every vendor on the floor at HITEC, for every cold-call and every speed-date conference, but be wary, many are just being buzz-word complaint. There are some important differences between having a partnership and simply engaging with a vendor.
 
I thought this was simple, defining the difference between vendors and partners, and there are some key places where there is a healthy difference. Amazon is one of my vendors, and that is all they ever want to be. We use them for all kinds of small stuff where we know what we need and simply want to complete the transaction. I never go to my rep at Amazon, there is no rep, simple transaction, and simple process. Beyond that, the line between vendor\partner is blurry.
 
Vendors offer products or services that are important to our operations. We deal with them every day, placing orders, completing transactions, filling needs. If you are looking for something off the shelf vendors tend to be the best fit. Technology departments use vendors for things like monitors, Ethernet cables, tools, straps and ties.
 
We have other partners that fall into what is commonly referred into Value Added Reseller, or VAR. A VAR can act as an agent for vendors (so they can just be vendors and product teams) to provide the relationship; the potential of partnership. Most of these relationships start just like my relationship with Amazon, you call and order a product, the VAR completes the transaction. If it works out, you might order again, if not, you move on to other vendors. To some VARs are just vendors with privileges, you still live in the transactional model, but sometimes you get a perk like special pricing or additional services as part of the deal.
 
VARs that represent many products have the ability to transcend beyond the ‘vendor with privileges’ level to a true partnership. It starts out pretty simple, you buy a server and they point out you have mix-matched ram or that there is a bundle that works better based on what you are ordering. If you are interested in pursuing the relationship, you share information on what you are attempting to accomplish and the VAR can offer solutions that you might not have thought about, or other options to get to the same goal.
 
We will define a partner as a person or organization that works in collaboration with your organization to solve issues or provide solutions. Some of the sore points in these relationships often happen when a potential suitor pursues a relationship with your company in the wrong way, overly aggressive, pushy, sales cycle focused or a solution looking for a problem. Just like dating, starting off a relationship on the wrong foot can stall any potential success.
 
Some vendors use the approach that illustrates your need for their product by solving a problem you might not even have. Fitting their square peg into your lack of hole. Some will promise ROIs that are figured on best case scenarios, perfect target audiences and take rates that are optimistic at best. Beware of calculations that include soft-costs like hours saved or increased productivity, these very rarely pan out, as that ‘savings’ in labor is often just moved to other areas and not true savings. A relationship needs to be built on trust, or at least responsibility. You are not going to do business with people you cannot trust to get the job done.
 
Some vendors never get to ‘first-base’ because they appear only to push a product based on their sales quotas, not your time line. Sometimes, if you are ready, this will benefit you with discounted pricing or additional services. Often though this will leave you feeling pressured or worse cheated when those same discounts are not available when you are ready to purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that people need to meet their goals and incentives, leverage this when you can, move on when you cannot. Poor vendors focus on making the sale, and only building relationships that are key to their sales cycle.
 
Partners, require a collaborative effort, that’s right – you have to work with them. In all my valuable partnerships, the relationship has been developed over months if not years, a true long-tail process.
 
Partners are also open to collaborating with other partners, this is a huge asset in developing integrations and working with new hardware or migrating to virtualization. Basically, if you are working with more than one partner, the project seems to move along well, if only one of the team reverts to simply being a vendor, stagnation can be the result. Hotels have systems like telephones and televisions, point of sale and high-speed Internet access; often these systems need to talk to each other or to property management systems or customer relationship management systems. The more complex the systems are, the more important it is to have good partners.

Partners are great sounding boards, and even will contact you with questions or suggestions.  Partners will bring the right people to the table if expertise outside their realm is needed. Partnerships shine through best not when everything goes smoothly, but rather when things fall apart. A true partnership reveals itself under duress.
 
But like any partnership, this is a two way street, we need to communicate with our partners to make this relationship a success. Make sure to include your partners in your communications, even on items that might seem out of their scope.
Building great partnerships takes work and above all communications from both parties.

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