IT consultants must work with vendors; there's no other way to procure servers, desktops, laptops, routers, software applications, and other products without signing up with at least a half-dozen to a dozen different distributors and manufacturers. But if you place your livelihood in the hands of vendors, things will not end well. For instance, if you hope a vendor will ship a component on time, or if you're desperate for a vendor to work outside their normal processes, you will be disappointed — that's just the way the real world works.
If a vendor leaves you hanging or makes an error, I recommend taking the following steps to protect your IT consultancy and your client relationships.
- Promptly address the issue. Don't hope the client won't notice a delay; instead, be proactive. Contact the client, explain the situation, and describe the steps your office is taking to correct the problem.
- Manage expectations. Ensure clients understand which factors are outside your control. Never tell a client that critical equipment or licenses (including reshipments) will be ready by a specific date; instead, inform the client that the vendor indicates your office will receive the order on X day. Make sure the client understands the final delivery date is out of your control.
- Offer clients other options. If a vendor is taking too long to source a 2U rack server with a specific RAID controller it can't track down, present the client with a second option. Then, if the client chooses to remain with the first option, the client is experiencing the delay because that's what the client chose, not because your vendor is performing too slowly.
- Show clients proof. I have no qualms about throwing a vendor under a bus. Whenever a vendor introduces a delay by sending the wrong equipment, items, or configuration, if necessary, I forward clients a copy of my office's confirmation notices in order to maintain the client's confidence and prove our engineers ordered the correct items and to show that the fault indeed lies with the third party. While that doesn't correct the issue, at least it demonstrates that my office isn't responsible for the error.
- Consider re-routing other clients' equipment. Say client A ordered a replacement for an aging system 10 days ago. The replacement arrives the same day a similar critical order overnighted for client B goes missing. Call client A and ask if they can spare a day or two so you can accommodate client B's emergency. You'll be surprised at how many times clients say "sure, no problem, you never know when I might need the same favor." Just be sure to always get permission before re-routing equipment.
- Think unconventionally. Sometimes consultants become so accustomed to following strict purchase processes that they fail to see the obvious solution; for instance, maybe an alternative device, system, or component can be purchased locally outside regular procurement systems or from a different vendor. While doing so may create headaches for the accounting department, it's worth it if it reinforces or improves a client relationship.
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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.