Whatever service you provide, difficult clients are unavoidable in the world of sourcing, so the ability to understand their concerns or issues and then quickly dissolve them is an essential skill.
Regardless of the client’s exact desires, most vendors will work tirelessly to align services and delivery with the current and forecast needs, eventually resulting in a great partnership. Even so, it helps to be prepared for client particularities, so here are some of the most difficult clients you should expect, and some solutions for dealing with them.
Inflexible and Uncompromising
Some customers will ask for specific requirements or services while granting the vendor little to no opportunity to become a true partner and help devise the best ways to accomplish their real needs – the Statement of Work becomes gospel, and deviation is not allowed.
These clients will direct the vendor daily and expect them to accomplish optimal value based solely on the level of detail deemed appropriate in the Statement of Work. Ultimately, they are missing out on a multitude of benefits that a true sourcing relationship can offer, so need to be shown otherwise.
Good clients understand that successful relationships are driven by trust, communication, and mutual respect, not by wielding service contracts like a battering rams.
Solution: Reassure the client that your experience helps to see across a wider cross section of their business, especially when you have a significant position in their external resourcing program. Explain any opportunities to combine your services into multiple portfolios, functions, or verticals of the client’s business.
By bringing added value to the table in ways that the client never thought of, you should find that they become more malleable to change.
Absent or Incapable Vendor Management Teams
Clients without vendor management teams are like the Wild West of the sourcing world, leading to a lot of misunderstanding, providing no way to fix relationship issues, and offering no way to measure and define success.
Even when a vendor management team is in place, you might be faced with “gatekeepers” that are completely focused on controlling costs and won’t let you talk to the people you need to help understand problems.
Solution: Advise the client that they need a dedicated team charged with vendor management on a daily basis. The team should be comprised of subject matter experts from a variety of disciplines that will own the key performance indicators and curriculum management, and will train the trainers and identify risk and customer issues. The team is the nerve center of the relationship.
Vendors should also provide dedicated day-to-day contacts for their clients’ teams to communicate, as any sizeable application warrants this level of attention. Dedicated support is not negotiable.
There is a natural desire for clients to wrest control of any operational components that are transitioned to the vendor. Forcing this can lead to ongoing tensions, impact the financial model, and might eventually lead to calls for renegotiation or complete termination of the contract.
There is also a point where controlling clients will attempt to drive costs too hard, leading to a deterioration of the relationship. At the end of the day, every player is in the game to make money, but some clients can go too far and fail to find the right balance of cost vs. relationship.
Solution: For clients, trusting a vendor’s model and letting go is all about understanding what they can dictate. Leverage your own dedicated team to translate those issues to the client and communicate working examples of where you’ve successfully cut costs and improved operations in the past. It will take time, but the controlling clients will eventually develop deeper trust in your services.
The Silent Type
Clients that don’t communicate and don’t provide you with the information you need are one of the most common difficult clients, and may effectively throw work over the wall to their vendors expecting them to somehow succeed without further engagement.
Clients not providing enough details or access to enable the supplier to succeed are major components of project failure. This may be information related to their technology stack, plans, objectives, challenge areas, organization details, vendor strategies, and other similar processes.
As the client starts to share information and becomes more transparent, the supplier’s understanding of the client starts to build. Then, as the supplier does the same, that same understanding is reciprocated, strengthening the bond. Without transparency, there might as well be no partnership.
Solution: One of the most fundamental characteristics for determining the maturity of a vendor-client relationship is transparency between parties. Clients be made aware that their strategy should not be based solely on expense and headcount reductions, but includes an ongoing commitment to communication and outstanding service and quality. Getting clients talking to the vendors and providing access to information that will result in maximum value is what it’s all about.
The “Us versus Them” Approach
Clients that view vendors simply as external providers and not as partners will ultimately find that their relationship never strengthens. These difficult clients are probably the hardest to deal with as they encompass all the negative aspects of the above types.
Solution: As a vendor, you are trying to develop your organization in a way that aligns with your clients, so make the client aware of this approach. A mature relationship requires a combination of legal, procurement, and a large contingent of people who truly understand the technical or operational elements that the client requires. This also requires vendor management teams to nurture each aspect of the relationship to ensure that all sides understand each other. Combining the above solutions into your overall approach will bring you and your client closer, strengthening the bond for mutual success.
What kinds of difficult clients do you come across as a vendor? As a client, what changes have you made to build a better relationship with vendors? Sound off in the comments.
Find more useful tips and actionable advice for vendors in other articles featured in our Corporate Coaching archives – click here.