Relations with a Vendor

While I was just starting out in technology, I did not realize how important my technology vendors were going to be to my personal success along with the success of implementing technology. It took me a long time also to realize that my technology vendors were not just the service provider we were aligned with, but also had to include the company that did the wiring/cabling, phone company/broker, cell phone company/broker, training schools, database developers and the numerous companies who provided us software.

Most things with building the relationship with the vendor have little to do with technology and much more about communication. The accidental techie can also face the challenge of being concerned that the vendor knows much more than they do and may find it personally challenging to believe that their voice can be heard.

I will give you my story on this one. I had worked with one support company for a couple of years and it did not go so well. Ultimately, my boss and our board committee decided it was time to part ways with that support company. I went about 18 months with no support company other than a board volunteer. I knew that he respected my knowledge and I never felt like I didn’t know enough. However, when it was time to get a support company again, it scared me. In fact, one of the first people I met from the new company scared me. I was sure that he knew that I knew nothing (and back then, I didn’t know as much as I do now). I would quake in my shoes and would feel sick whenever having to deal with him. He was very knowledgeable and was full of ideas that helped us immensely.

Overtime, I worked with other staff from this support company. In fact, they are still our selected vendor of choice. I grew in my knowledge and my confidence in my knowledge. I hadn’t worked with this man for a long time until recently again. I looked at him and realized that I wasn’t scared of him any longer and that he did respect what I did. I think it was funny when he looked at me and said, “You aren’t scared of me any longer.” Since then, the joke is that I have him on his toes because I ask lots more questions than I ever did and I will not back down to just accept his answers.

My point in sharing this almost embarrassing story from my past is that I am sure that other accidental techies have probably felt this way in front of vendors. Vendors are to be the experts and you are accidentally in technology. It’s easier to worry about managing the money and contracts with the vendor than it is to want to handle the conversations with technology. It can be very easy to believe that the vendor knows what is right and it may cause you doubt in yourself.

I have some suggestions:

  • There is no such thing as a dumb question – If you are going to build a relationship with a vendor that is going to be strong and good for your agency, you have to feel comfortable asking the questions. The right vendor is going to answer all of the questions for you.
  • Share with your vendor – It is important to let your vendors know more about your agency/organization than just what your technology needs are. They need to know who you serve and how you do your job. One of my commitments when meeting a possible new vendor is to be direct with them and admit we anticipate that our vendors will support our agency in return. Get that kind of committment out there in the open and you may be able to even get a fiscal supporter out of your vendor.
  • Learn who is who at the vendor – I have a small secret – sometimes people will help me outside of ‘work’ to help me get things done. It’s not a contracted relationship and it is a very slippery slope that can get someone into trouble counting on their work regulations. But if you can build a friendship with someone who may be able to give you a quick answer to something or help move a rack in the server room, I couldn’t say that I haven’t done that.  But watch out – the sales representative is not going to go for this. Get to know the roles of the people you interact with before trying anything on the side.
  • Research – The internet is a wealth of information, and I’ll probably share some of those in further posts on this topic. New ideas on how to manage vendor relationships are always out there – so take some time every year to just do a general search on Google and read anything of interest.
  • Stay in touch – even with the big vendors – When I say “big vendors”, I mean those representatives from companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Citrix, and any other large vendors. It helps out for me to touch base with my representatives about once a year. Sometimes this will just be a sales pitch for something that you aren’t ready for, but other times, you really learn some new product that will help you out immensely.

So, work on your vendor relationships and know that it is time well worth it in the long run.

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