Why is it that vendors in the IT services industry can be so amazingly successful with one client and so curiously unsatisfactory with another? It’s common to find someone with a strong, positive opinion of a particular vendor, only to find someone else’s opinion has arrived at “we would never use them again”. This got me thinking about what sort of circumstances could cause such a dichotomy of vendor perspectives.
Vendor management teams for IT services should think often about the associations and relationships that they have with their vendors. Each relationship is likely to be very different to one another: the engagements each vendor has in the organization, the position they occupy in the client-vendor strategy, their success and growth over time, and their view of the client as a premier client (or not) are all defined by the journey both parties experience across the relationship timeline.
The relationship itself, more so than raw vendor capability, may very well have the most impact on the overall success of vendor engagements. But which people on the vendor side had the relationship as the highest priority of their daily agenda? There’s clearly one role that stands out above all others: the Account Manager, Business Relationship Manager (BRM), or whatever similar title that person holds in the vendor organization structure.
The Underlying Importance of BRMs
The BRM has overall responsibility for execution, operations, sales, marketing, relationship, billing/collections, problem management, knowledge management, growth, strategy, investment, innovation….the list goes on. That is a lot of responsibility and it is unlikely that the average client would give much latitude on many of these factors of the partnership.
Consider how a client might feel if the vendor was suddenly content with the amount of work they have and became disinterested in going after new work, or did not fully engage when a project goes sideways, or otherwise changes their tune in areas important to you through ignorance or purpose. What if they didn’t follow through with proposals or inquiries, or failed to establish proper relationships with the managers and project personnel in your business? It would seem, if unchecked, you might reconsider your vendor strategy and alignment, and the relationship would suffer. It could lead to challenges or degradation of volume you choose to maintain or build with the vendor, yet the vendor capability itself may not have changed at all.
It’s All about the Business Relationship Manager
At a recent gathering of managers and project personnel from companies engaged in an external resourcing program, our conversations soon strayed from vendors to Business Relationship Managers. One manager voiced his displeasure with his BRM, indicating how disappointed he was with that person, how useless they were in the role, and how bad things had gotten since they had arrived on the scene. Then, a manager who had a good experience with the same supplier expressed his delight with his BRM; he believed in him, relied on him, and engaged with him on all aspects—not only performance and project success, but investment and innovation as well.
For the disappointed manager, the fact that the BRM had changed seem to be the defining factor on how the overall success and reputation of the vendor diminished in his eyes. Looking at the prior positions of these BRMs within and outside the enterprise, it was discovered that wherever the good BRMs landed, the volume grew and the satisfaction across the business followed. In contrast, the BRM who was struggling had similar outcomes in their prior placements. Could it be that the BRM was a central factor in the overall success of the vendor business by business? The data was supporting that hypothesis.
Choosing a BRM Wisely
While the BRM may arrive on the scene with all the skills and empowerment necessary to get the most out of the engagement, sometimes you may have to nurture the relationship to ensure there are no boundaries or barriers for them to meet your expectations. And other times the placement is just not appropriate or skilled enough for your environment.
When you look at your relationships with your vendors and you align your vendor strategy, pay close attention to the BRM the vendor chooses for you. Better yet, work to provide input and influence to which BRM you get. They hold a very special position of influence on the vendor side which you can feel as their customer. They have so much responsibility and must have a very high level of empowerment within their company to maximize effectiveness for you, the client. They are the ones that go to bat across their enterprise for getting the best resources. They are the ones that justify investment. They are the ones that sponsor and promote an innovative attitude in their environment. Anything short of excellence in this role and you are likely losing precious value. If ever you have any question as to whether you are getting the most out of your supplier relationships, consider starting with the BRM.