We all know the importance of having good people on your support staff, but the support team outside the company is just as important – that is, vendors and suppliers, as well as consultants (if you use them). Vendor and supplier loyalty can be just as important as being loyal to one’s staff. (Well okay, certainly not as important as the staff, but it can sure make a big difference.)

When it comes to hardware suppliers, while I wouldn’t call it being loyal to a particular brand, per se, simply because of name recognition, I will continue to select a proven and successful brand and stick with it – until, that is, some particular brand begins to have a high failure rate. For example, I used Maxtor hard drives for years, until I had to deal with numerous hard drive failures within a very short time frame. A brand I’ve been using since the 2 GB days suddenly found itself on the outs with me when their 60 GB model started failing in droves. At that point, after a bit of research, I switched my hard drive of preference to Seagate; and I’ll continue to buy Seagate until the performance of that equipment makes me decide otherwise. Even if it costs a bit more, I’ll stick with the proven brand.

(I’ll point out a bit of irony before someone else does, and that’s the fact that Seagate actually acquired Maxtor a couple of years ago. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Maxtor failures started to occur just prior to that acquisition.)

The same goes with ASUS motherboards and ATI graphics, and I’ll continue to use those brands until their performance and reliability makes me decide otherwise. ViewSonic, be careful. A recent high failure rate coupled with dismal customer support response time makes you close to being a brand I no longer use. One more bad experience with you, and you’ll find yourself off my preferred list and at the top of another kind of list.

I might also add that I purchase all of my hardware from the same supplier. I don’t shop their competitors for price, but when I make a large purchase, I will call the store manager, give him my long shopping list, and ask if he’ll provide a volume discount. Based on the amount of dollars I spend there every year, he always gives a nice discount in such cases. If I weren’t a steady and regular customer, I would have a harder time getting such a thing.

I used to rely on one particular supplier for all my printer and plotter supplies. We go through a lot of paper, and we require periodic maintenance on our units, so it’s a significant expenditure for us. There was the time when I was using one particular supplier, but I would get regular visits (a couple of times a year) from a sales representative for a competing firm. She always reminded me that she could provide better service for a lower price, but I was hesitant to switch. This went on for quite some time, and I actually began to enjoy her visits. She was never pushy, but just wanted to keep her name out there should I ever decide to change.

Sure enough, my supplier of choice began to fail miserably in meeting our needs. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that enough happened within a short period of time that led me to reach for the business card she would leave on my desk. After I made the switch, I stuck with her for almost ten years. (This is also a lesson on persistence – she landed a great new client.) The day did come, however, when she quit that job and moved away, her company merged with a bigger conglomerate, and I started to feel like the forgotten stepchild being passed around among any number of sales representatives who never could fill the shoes that had been vacated. I’m now a couple of years into working with a new vendor, and so far, so good.

Finding good vendors, suppliers, and consultants to support your support needs, I believe, makes your support efforts even better.