In my last entry, I provided some suggestions for keeping a deal from going direct, but despite your best efforts it is going to happen and I think the temptation will be even greater next year. So what do you do?
First, don’t lose your cool. I know it feels good at the time, but it rarely gets anything done. OK, now that you’re calm, cool and collected, gather your facts. Do you have a case? Did you live up to the rules of engagement? Can you prove it? Following the rules of engagement is important in any interaction with a vendor — or a customer, for that matter. Knowing what everybody is going to do — and how — just makes sense. I’ve been involved in projects where we specifically said we were going to add no value to the project other than make the introduction and supply engineers, but I put that in writing so everyone was clear.
Once you’re sure you can prove that you’ve been wronged, call as high up in the organization as you can; a meeting with the CEO is a great place to start.
How should you prepare for the meeting? As a friend of mine once said, there’s nothing better than stacks of documented evidence. What you are looking for here is proof of your value in the project. Did you bring the customer to the vendor? Show a chain of emails or a registration notice that verifies it. It is especially useful to show a long-standing history with the account. Once the account was registered, did you maintain contact with the account and the vendor? Emails are again your friend here. In short, bring all the evidence that you have that confirms you followed the rules of engagement. Lastly, hard copy is more compelling than electronic files, so print it out your documents and bring them with you to the meeting.
At the meeting, state your case; 99% of the time, if you can state your case well, you don’t need to win the argument, simply battle to a tie. Again, the evidence is key. I have walked into meetings with my stack of evidence, the vendor saw it, asked what it was, and the first words out of their mouths was, “What can we do to make this right?” (And then there was the time I walked into a meeting with a bunch of blank pages of paper…)
When you get to the point of making it right, things can get challenging. If the product has already been shipped and billed, there are limits on what can be done. I recommend always asking for what the vendor thinks is fair (under the theory that their idea of fair might be far better than what you would have suggested). At a minimum, you should ask them to pay for your expected profit on the project. You should also be compensated for the time wasted in preparing for the meeting. Never accept a future promise of additional business or consideration; more often than not, that does not pan out.
If you end up with the 1% of vendors that won’t do the right thing or if the remediation is not fair in your mind, you have other options. Contact me, I’ll help; but be aware that if you didn’t do your homework upfront, there are limits. Another option is to go to the “press” with blogs and channel-focused websites; you can easily make quite a stink. This is basically the nuclear option, and you should be careful with it. If the vendor represents a large amount of your business, you might just have to suck it up (and contact me instead).
George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation’s largest storage integrators.