Last week, Jack, the best account exec I’ve encountered in 14 years as an IT Director, told me he was leaving his company–bad news, indeed. He came to see my team and me Thursday and took us out for one last business lunch like so many we’ve enjoyed over the years.
He was quick to say that he’d called us first with the news of his decision because we were his favorite customers–not his biggest customers, just the ones he felt closest to and fondest of. That meant a lot to me. I’ve worked hard to manage all my school’s technology vendor relationships going back to my earliest days in this position.
Jack’s departure prompted me to think about what made him such a good account exec. It also reminded me of my own role as a vendor when working on consulting engagements with Educational Collaborators. What makes a strong vendor/client relationship? What do both parties need to bring to the table to make the relationship work?
In short, it’s all about mutual trust and the steps you both take to earn it.
From the customer side of things, vendors earn my trust when they:
>> take the time to learn about my school, my IT team, and how the team’s goals fit into the school’s big picture
>> make certain we are both clear on what we expect from each other
>> deliver at least what is promised (and often more) on time and on budget
>> take responsibility for delays, missteps, or problems with products or services they sell, and act quickly and effectively to put them right
>> advocate for our needs with their higher-ups when necessary
>> bring us creative, worthwhile options we hadn’t thought of to achieve our goals
>> are well-organized and efficient in following up on action steps — getting the little things right
>> get back to me in a reasonable amount of time when I contact them
>> are able to hear and give constructive feedback on the working relationship we have
>> deliver a quality product or service at a fair price (which may or may not be different from the lowest price–in general, I think you get what you pay for)
>> are respectful of my time
These are the habits and traits that made Jack such a valued partner in our work here at my school. These same habits and traits guide my actions when I’m representing Educational Collaborators as a vendor on consulting engagements.
Looking at this relationship from the vendor side, it’s easy to build trust when clients:
>> work with me to be crystal clear on project goals and what we both expect from one another
>> meet deadlines for their responsibilities in a given engagement
>> provide me with the information I need to understand the larger context in which the engagement is taking place, along with important details that a newcomer to their school might miss
>> provide me with a single contact person for the project who responds in a timely way
>> are able to hear and give constructive feedback on the project while it’s in progress and also when it’s complete
>> abide by the terms in the Statement of Work and request Change Orders when necessary
>> take a few simple steps to make on-site work reasonably comfortable (water, network access, a quiet room to work in when not working directly with others on site, etc.)
The most effective relationships between customers and vendors are always about something more than just buying and selling equipment or services. The “value add” (a popular term I don’t much care for) starts rising when the trusting relationship you’ve set out to build makes both parties better at what they do.
Curt Lieneck is the Director of Technology at an independent school in Chicago, Illinois.