Monday, April 02, 2012

Fragile 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. It reflects the adage that 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 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.

An interesting situation played itself when the sales head of a large hardware vendor (A) moved to their larger competitor (B); the customer used the solution of vendor A 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 with vendor B to sell the competing solution. Earlier as a representative of vendor A, she had advised him of the demerits of moving to the industry leader’s solution. The predicament that 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 vendor B solution 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 for a marquee customer for which she could claim no credit.

In another case I found business to business connect stronger surviving 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 while the sales team played a facilitating role managing renewal of contract and extension of service. Why do some relationships survive beyond people or organizations ? What makes some shift while others stick ? Does one have merits over the other ? How does the CIO break the chains of inertia or comfort keeping business interests paramount ?

I believe that relationships sustain themselves in a symbiotic way when the end result is win-win. When either 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 breakpoint; 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.

Coming back to fragility of relationships; a bird told me about a vendor warning a CIO for publicly washing dirty linen ! Now that’s a story for another day over a drink.

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