Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO, Leadership, role of the CIO, Vendor relationships
Over the years CIOs and vendors have worked to forge relationships that go beyond transactional and contractual obligations. This decade-long trend has strengthened some bonds in such a way that irrespective of the companies that the CIO or the vendor representative worked for, they continued to do business over the years. I have heard the adage many times, people do business with people.
CIOs in new assignments replace vendors with their preferred partners from the past based on comfort and the proposition that they know the people within the company; they are comfortable with the management hierarchy and the finer nuances of the organization’s way of working. However, such changes are occasionally disruptive to the enterprise as well as the incumbent vendors who may have enjoyed good relationships and business with the earlier CIO.
A lesson in humility
An interesting situation happened when the sales head of a large hardware vendor moved to the larger competitor; the customer used the solution of the earlier vendor and the CIO was planning an upgrade or replacement. The sales head had to come back to the CIO to work in her new avatar to sell the competing solution. Earlier as a customer of the smaller company, she had advised him of the demerits of moving to the industry leader’s solution. The predicament switched over a weekend close to signing the deal created some amusing but discomforting moments for both the CIO and the vendor.
While they enjoyed a great relationship, the CIO demonstrated maturity with fair evaluation and technology taking precedence in the decision making criteria. In the end, the CIO did buy the competing product but with a clear message that the decision was fait accompli before the movement of the sales head. It was a lesson in humility for her being a large order from a marquee customer for which she could claim no credit.
In another case I found that business to business connect was stronger, surviving the changes in relationship managers over the years. The foundation was built on long standing relationship though the delivery was of acceptable quality. This relationship sustained itself with the sales team only facilitating renewal of contract and extension of service.
Why do some relationships survive beyond people or organizations? What makes some shift while others stick to the tried and tested? Does one have merits over the other? What happens when the sales team starts taking the business for granted? How does the CIO break the chains of inertia or comfort keeping the business interests over individual comfort?
I believe that relationships are fragile; they sustain themselves in a symbiotic way when the end result is win-win. When the CIO is in a position of compromise, survival instincts will drive the path ahead. This may result in breakdown of existing relationships. Vendors need to keep a watch in such signs before they reach a break-point; go beyond transactions to engagement. The CIO on his/ her part should constantly engage in an open dialogue with service partners to provide feedback and discuss challenges and opportunities. It is almost like managing internal teams.
Status quo is not an option.