It may seem harsh, said Dave Sobel, Senior Director MSP Evangelism at SolarWinds MSP, at the start of his presentation, but it’s worrying how little solution providers understand about vendors’ work.
“When I ran my own MSP, I thought I was pretty good at it; and even then, I wasn’t all that great,” said Dave. “One of the biggest challenges is that most of the time, what solution providers see as nefarious actions undermining them on the part of the vendor, is actually (more often than not) a result of something that was overlooked or forgotten, or even that the impact of something may not have been properly thought through.”
Dave then broke his session into two parts: how to manage vendors and how to build out the service for your customers.
Looking at managing vendors, Dave first explained that solution providers need to know a lot more about who they are talking to if they want to get the most out of the relationship. “You have to understand how people are compensated, how the company makes money, and even how your rep makes money,” he said “And don’t treat everyone the same. Are you thinking about the person you’re talking to—how are they compensated and what are they measured on? Because if you’re not, it’s unlikely that you’re leveraging the most value from that person.”
Dave went on to explain that you can then use this information in several ways.
First, you can use it to understand the context of the company’s moves. Are they adding features to appeal to more customers? Are they doing acquisitions in order to increase revenue? Are they focused on retention, where their investments are about keeping partner loyalty up? “Nothing is black or white—no single priority wins out, of course—but you need to understand the strategy,” Dave added.
Second, you can use this information for your asks. Are you asking for things for your own company, to help you grow? Does that align with the need of the vendor?
“It’s important to explore how the vendor assigns their budget,” said Dave. “A vendor’s ability to execute on anything is determined by the information you determined… and then how much budget they are willing to commit.”
And don’t get obsessed with free stuff. “Too many people just want to get free stuff from the company—especially at events,” said Dave. “I remember and develop relationships with the guys that go out of their way to talk.”
Dave also pointed out that another thing to remember is that your secret forum is not secret. Someone will always be making sure the vendor knows what is being said. “This isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Dave. “It’s good to get honest feedback. Just know that if it’s on the internet, it gets back to people. While we may not respond to comments, we know what’s going on.”
He also pointed out that there is an inverse relationship between how publically you ask your question, and how open a vendor can be with their answer. “When you ask a question to a vendor on stage, or in an ‘open letter’ on the internet, remember that the person you’re asking has their boss, their PR team, and the company lawyers all listening to the answer,” said Dave. “When you write your question down, there’s a paper trail. So, when you ask casually face-to-face, you may get a lot more open and complete answer.”
So, how do you manage vendors and at the same time ensure you deliver the service you need for your customers? Dave closed out his presentation by covering a number of different areas you need to focus on.
“Firstly, it’s important define the roles and responsibilities for managing vendors,” said Dave. “You need to know internally who’s dealing with specific vendors and what their responsibilities are. You don’t want confusion creeping in, as this will erode the creation of a strong relationship.”
Off the back of this, Dave also explained you need to define a process for communication management with your vendor. This means being clear about what the expectations are and how everything is logged, etc. Part of this also means being clear about SLAs and contract obligations, and making sure that you manage these as effectively as possible.
“You need to stay on top of things financially with your vendors,” explained Dave. “This means performing regular billing analysis and review. The big value of managing vendors is making sure the bills are all right, so you need to plan for this.”
What if there’s a problem? “Make sure you document the process for how each of your vendor partners processes disputes,” said Dave. “This means not only does it make it easier for you to engage with the vendor throughout a dispute, it also means you can track what is going on.”
Dave also added that measuring customer satisfaction is critical to your vendor management program. “By building a process to measure and maintain customer satisfaction, you’re hearing directly form the people that are affected by the software you use,” said Dave. “Getting their feedback is essential to understanding if there are key issues that need to be addressed by your vendors.”
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