A lot of my job involves managing vendors. Like many parts of my day at work, it’s often drudgery. This is a lot like poker, where you must work through the same situation over and over again, looking for something unusual.
I ask the same questions of every vendor. “Are you profitable? Cash flow positive? Who are your investors?”
But I do it because I am invested in my vendors. They form a piece of the infrastructure of my company. And I think you get better results when you treat your vendors well. When they do me a big favor, I send them a box of chocolates. I call them and tell them what they’re doing right, so they don’t only hear from me when something’s going wrong. I visit them (some people never do this) and take them out to eat. And I communicate problems through disappointment, not anger, since the productive arc of a conversation without anger gets me so much better results.
One time I remember I was reporting a serious problem with a vendor’s billing system. It had the potential to make all our bills to our clients inaccurate. I carefully measured my tone of voice through the conversation, which I know my vendor noticed, and then I hit her with the hammer, “You understand that inside I’m freaking out, but that by not screaming, I’m hoping you are the epitome of speed and customer service in solving this problem.” Of course she understood, and I’ve always gotten excellent customer service from her ever since.
It’s good to be a vendor of Mindshare. However becoming one is sometimes a challenge, especially if you don’t do your homework. Over time my ego has shrunk and I’ve developed a finely tuned radar for people that are pitching me. “Why are they pitching me?” I wonder. How did they decide I’m special? Telling me my company has an impressive track record isn’t good enough, what about our track record impressed you? Tell me facts, not platitudes.
And so it was that a prospective vendor called me the other day with an otherwise reasonable pitch poorly executed…
Me: Hello, this is Shabbir, may I help you?
I know it sounds absurd that this is how I answer the phone, but if I don’t do it, how can I expect my employees to?
Mike: Hi, this is Mike XXXXX from DDLabs.com. I sent you an e-mail and you sent me a reply asking where I got your name from and what motivated me to contact you. I just thought I’d call.
Me: Oh yeah, I remember you. So how did you decide to contact me, me specifically?
I remember this guy. He sent me an e-mail that seemed a little too salesy, offering me offshore development services. I am genuinely interested in that, but I was curious as to how he got my name and e-mail. I won’t do business with spammers, and I won’t do business with someone who bought my name with 100 others off a list, but then tells me I’m special. An honest person would just admit he bought a list of e-mail addresses, or that he had an intern surf my website to find me, but he wasn’t that honest.
Here’s the e-mail text in case you’re curious:
I wanted to send you a quick email. I am the EVP of DDLabs Worldwide and we are regarded as one of the top International IT development firms. I don’t typically do a lot of business development, but I think that a conversation between you and I would be beneficial for both companies. We are the only outsourcing company to ever be named Microsoft Solution Company of the Year and we specialize in .Net, Java development, Mainframe, and ERP solutions. I am at our DC office for at least one week every month and if it makes sense I would like to set up a call and then a meeting to talk about the possibility of helping you with your IT project base. Please shoot me back an email to let me know the best time to talk and I will have my assistant follow up to confirm our call.
So I had to ask, “How did he decide to contact me?”
Mike: Well Mindshare has won so many awards I couldn’t help but notice your firm’s profile.
The lack of specifics and the tone of voice suggests this is a castoff comment, designed to flatter and distract me.
Me: Really, which awards have we won that caught your eye?
Mike: Oh some of them have been very prestigious.
Me: Really? Name one.
Of course we’ve won lots of awards, but now my bullshit detector is going off.
Mike: Well…. it wasn’t any one award in particular, but I figure that with your global perspective you would be a great partner to develop a relationship with.
This is getting good. Now I have “a global perspective”.
Me: Really, you think I have a global perspective?
Mike: Oh yes. With your offices in Europe I know you must be interested in making a connection with …
In quick succession two things hit me. First, he’s got the wrong Mindshare. He thinks I’m the media-buying firm that’s owned by WPP. Second, this guy doesn’t even do enough due diligence to know who he’s calling. I’m vaguely insulted.
Me: So, who suggested you contact me, was it a sales assistant? You know you’ve got the wrong Mindshare, we’re not the global agency you’re thinking of but a public affairs communications firm….
I’m tiring of him now and I’m trying to give him an out, let him blame someone else if that’s the case. Or fall on his sword and apologize.
Mike: No, you know I don’t really do a lot of sales, I just thought we’d make a good partner and I wanted to reach out to you to see if we could do some work together.
I’m so over this call. He’s been told he’s called the wrong person and he still pitching me. Now I’m genuinely annoyed. I would like the last two minutes of my life back.
I think the last thing I said was, “I can’t believe you don’t even know who you’re calling..” before I put down the receiver.
Sincerity. It’ll get you miles with me. Hookers don’t work, nor do expensive meals. Just tell me the truth and don’t use a lot of buzzwords and we’ll be good.