When asked about outside vendors, managers tend to think first of the ones they already have — the vendors that are a part of their current resource supply chains. However, managers will have to deal with new vendors at some point and the experience will lead them to wonder if there is a method for handling new vendors with which they haven't done business before.
This question is more important than many managers realize. New vendor relationships, like relationships with new people, begin with first impressions. If a new relationship gets off on the wrong foot, it is difficult to correct course—the credo of "You never have a second chance to create a first impression" holds true more often than not.
So how do you create positive impressions with new vendors—whether you have present interest in their offerings, or whether you don't?
Here are several basic guidelines:
1. Be clear and direct in your communications
If a vendor has a product you will clearly never use, tell him so. No salesperson likes to hear this, but at least he will not waste an inordinate amount of time trying to build a relationship with you. An alternative to this, if you have no present need for the product but think you might in the future, is to tell the vendor when it would be better timing to check back with you.
2. Don't let your workload prevent you from checking out new offerings
Managers can get so busy with their daily work that they don't really have time to look at many new products or services. Instead, they stick with what they are already using, even if those products or services might not be as effective or as economical as what a new vendor could offer. If you think that your managerial workload places you into this category, assign someone in your team to vet these offerings and to make recommendations.
3. Get to know new vendors as well as their products
If a new product piques your interest, take the time to know both the vendor and the product. How long has the company been in business? Does it have other products that complement the one you are considering? How satisfied are the company's customers? If the product or service being offered requires that individuals from your organization will be working with the vendor, are your two work cultures compatible?
4. Don't accept visits from unannounced vendors
Some vendors use a "get in the door" sales approach where they drop by your office unannounced, saying that they just happened to be in the area. When this happens, have them see the receptionist to schedule an appointment at another time. Great company-vendor relationships begin when both sides respect each other's time pressures and commitments.
You never know when a new vendor you haven't worked with before might introduce a product or service that is absolutely breakthrough for your operation. This is why it makes sense to keep all options open. You can establish an effective screening process within your organization for these new offerings that can quickly identify the potential product and service fits, and also the products and services that you don't have requirements for. More than anything, it is important to know who is out in the marketplace when it comes to products and services that your organization needs, and when it makes sense to establish new relationships that will be beneficial for both you and the vendor.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.