Strategic Vendor Management - From Buyer to Partner - Page 1

Jul 12, 2007

Anne Zink

The old adage really is true. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1997, my company conducted a series of interviews with CIOs in Global 500 companies. The goal was to find out how IT vendors could improve their relationships with their most important customers. The top 3 findings were:

  • Invest in understanding our business, not just our infrastructure;
  • Build relationships outside of IT; and
  • Include us in your strategy/product roadmap discussions.

    We recently repeated that research, expanding it to include Fortune 1000 companies. The findings, a full decade later, were the same.

    What’s interesting is when we share them with vendors they practically groan in frustration. “We would be more than happy to comply with the first two; ‘they’ (the clients) won’t let us.”

    Clearly, something was amiss, so we dug deeper.

    The first thing we discovered is vendors, with very few exceptions, don’t feel comfortable moving outside of the CIO’s department. Vendors are concerned their day-to-day contacts will feel they are going around them and undermining their authority. Our research found plenty of evidence backing up the concern.

    The second challenge is that, even if they felt empowered to move outside of IT, most weren’t sure where to go. In the Global 100, senior executives cultivated cross company relationships, but that practice was fairly limited. It’s simply not scalable. There are only so many senior executives to go around.

    The third challenge is that the average account executive has very little expertise or understanding of the world outside of IT. Most were hired for their technical savvy. They tend to be “geeks” hired to communicate with other geeks. Take them outside of their IT comfort zone and they are severely handicapped.

    It feels like this should be an easy challenge to solve. After all, both parties want the same thing so we dug some more.

    This time we searched for companies who feel good about their vendor relationships. We found fifty. They were spread out across multiple segments. Due to this wide distribution, the numbers are not statistically significant.

    They employed a variety of solutions to the challenges we uncovered. Every corporate culture is unique. What works in one, may not be the best solution for another. Therefore we are calling these solutions, "leading" practices.

    Getting to Know Us Sessions: This practice was found most often in Fortune 1000 companies. The CIO sponsored several informal sessions each year that would introduce internal stakeholders to key vendors.

    The sessions required careful planning to minimize any vendor conflict as well as ensure the appropriate stakeholders were present. Internal departments also took some convincing, but ultimately found the sessions valuable. The number one advantage to the CIO was that departments now felt heard.

    RFI/RFP Briefing Sessions: This practice was found in Fortune & Global 500 companies. When an RFI/RFP was ready for release, they conducted Web conferences to review the goals of the project and its expected impact on each stakeholder group.

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