Vendor managers
Illustration: Phil Couzens

Salespeople! Fear not the vendor manager!

Ye asked for it and ye shall receive.

They make you nervous when you first enter their castle lair, subdue you with their charisma, bleed you dry when you doze off, creep around your scopes, then vaporize and vanish when cornered.

I’m not talking about Vampiric Minions, I’m talking about Vendor Managers.

Put down your stakes and drop the holy water vile - doesn’t work, I tried.

The tips below are some of the ways I managed the unmanageable, stopped creeping scopes, protected my vitals and safely navigated the procurement graveyard, which is where most Vendor Manager’s careers go to die.

1. Drive nails into expectations from both sides, on paper, not email.

- A contract is not a piece of paper to get signed so you can send an invoice, it is a binding agreement that can get your company sued. Treat it with caution.

- Managing Expectations has an older brother, his name is Controlling Expectations, bring him in during discussions, he can help.

2. Give VMs a meeting structure that allows them to rate your performance, offer feedback and communicate regularly.

- For heaven’s sake, you broke in, why don’t you try to do as much business as possible? Younger sales people are good at one-off closes, but suck at management, that’s where experience and patience comes in.

- Get referrals after you have delivered AWESOME results, not just sent them the box they ordered.

3. Demand that if SLAs are in, that joint accountabilities be in the contract too.

- Contracts are not just to organize how many different ways the client can screw you. Clients have the obligation to do things as well for success of the project or roll-out of your product.

4. Ask to be included in planning and forecasting (if you can really be of help).

- You might not have noticed, but you are an expert in your field, VMs are not - show them value and ask to come on-site and offer free advice and tips as an industry expert to help them plan resources that involve your service.

- The big consulting firms charge millions for the advice you have in your head, offer it, but back it up!

5. Know who the VM reports to, who the VM works with laterally, and who reports in to the VM. VMs can vaporize, leaving you and your agreements in the lurch. Be best friends with his or her assistant too.

- You need to know what kind of organizational pressure the VM has and how to help alleviate it with awesome service. VMs are people too, though sometimes the photo ID security badge and black cape they wear may make you feel otherwise.

6. If you are asked to lower your price, reduce your deliverables.

- This is where knowing a client’s business is critical, try giving them a scenario where THEIR front office is asked to take a hit on commission because the client wants a cheaper rate.

- This is where my previous advice about charging fairly comes handy.

- If the VM doesn’t care if you go under, complete the current project or delivery and get a new client. Then tell the VM’s boss when appropriate, off-site somewhere.

7. Be professional and formal in your communications and demeanor.

- You can be friendly with people without being friends.

A stupid joke, an ill-timed pat on the back at a bar, or comment left on their Facebook profile can get you fired.

Unfortunately, VMs don’t know that robbing vendors of fair margins only makes them an endangered species once a big resourcing problem or outage occurs.

Lower margins + lower salaries x less experienced people = crap coverage.

Explain this, be brave, even when a VM is going for your jugular.

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