I have a friend who’s the one-person IT department at his company, and he’s always complaining about his hardware vendor. “They sent me the wrong hard drive three times in a row. I don’t know why they can’t get anything right the first time!”

I wondered aloud if maybe my friend was partly to blame for not giving the vendor enough information. His reply: “I told the guy the model of the PC, and he should have looked it up and sent me the right part.”

At that point, I said, “Then you need to find a new vendor.” Unfortunately, changing vendors isn’t an option for my friend. The vendor is a friend of the CEO, and he has a “lock” on the business.

So I played the armchair analyst and said, “Hey, you need to explain to your CEO that you’re not getting the kind of service you expect. You need to put your foot down and findyourselfavendorwhowilltreatyoulikeapartner.” Of course, that’s easier said than done.

What makes a good vendor?
I talked to several IT managers who told me they like to do all of their business with the same vendor, and they have very specific expectations of those vendors. Here are some of the key attributes.

  • Trust. You want to know that when a vendor promises a piece of equipment by a certain date, it will arrive.
  • Communication. You want to know that your vendor will answer your phone call or e-mail in a timely manner.
  • Accurateinformation. You don’t have time to read all of the Web sites, magazines, and direct-mail catalogs looking for a part number. You expect your vendor to know (or to find out) everything about the systems and parts you purchase.
  • Flexiblequotes. Some vendors always quote you the highest possible price. The best vendors pitch you low, middle, and high quotes. You don’t need the same machine for your Web server as you do for the executive assistant’s workstation, and your vendor should know that.

Of course, there are many qualities you don’t want in a vendor. You don’t want to work with a vendor who tries to dump the 650-Mhz machines on you—just to clear out his inventory—when the 800-Mhz machines are out and are basically the same price. You want to avoid vendors who quote you one number on the phone and then the invoice shows up padded with all kinds of unanticipated “extras” that were conveniently overlooked during the telephone quote. And you want to avoid vendors who don’t do their homework—like the company that kept sending my friend the wrong SCSI drive.

Share your vendor stories
Do you have a particular strategy for ferreting out the “good” vendors from the pack of mediocre or “bad” ones? I invite you to share your experiences with vendors—the good, the bad, and the ugly—with your fellow TechRepublic members. Post a comment below or drop me a note, and I’ll publish the most interesting stories on the site.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff’s View from Ground Zero TechMail, and you’ll get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers.