Five Ways To Be A Better Vendor

August 28, 2015 by

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

Ah, the fall conference season. Gartner. Dreamforce. Educause. A stalwart of conferences is the ubiquitous vendor exhibit hall, where in return for handing over business cards or sitting through a demonstration, you t00 can get pens, T-shirts, and enter a raffle for a cool mobile device.

Whether at a conference or on-site meeting, here are some tips for the myriad of vendors currently planning booths and demos ….

1. Do your homework. Our industries have publications (hint: for higher education and research institutions, that would be The Chronicle of Higher Education).  Our companies have websites. Individuals probably have a LinkedIn profile. It’s so easy to understand someone’s professional background and have a rudimentary knowledge of their employer and industry. When you don’t do your homework, I’m not impressed.

2. Ask (good) questions. And not the, “What are your current and upcoming projects or planned purchases.” (Yes, I know you are here to try and sell me stuff. Stop being so obvious.) I suggest: “How are you?” (and mean it), “What are you hoping to get out of the conference/today’s meeting?” or “I see your institution just completed [new building, new product, new acquisition]; congratulations – how is it going?”

3. Stop talking and start listening. Stop trying to sell stuff and focus on figuring out a way to make us both more successful (which will lead to the aforementioned “cheer and song”).  You don’t know me, the IT department, or my company better than I do. Your best chance of being considered as a vendor is to ask good questions  and  listen carefully. And please, please stop “cold calling” and “cold e-mailing” me. If you are an existing vendor in good standing, you know how to connect with me effectively. And by the way, as a general rule, I don’t accept Linked In or Facebook requests from people I don’t know, or don’t come recommended by people I do know. No offense, but these days, it’s the equivalent of opening a door to a stranger.

4. Follow the procurement processes. All companies have policies and practices when it comes to product selection. This is especially true in public higher education. Don’t complain or suggest a different pathway. Just do it.

5. Respect people’s time. You are probably not the most important meeting of the day. Customers and colleagues are ahead of you. Come prepared with the information and questions. Stick to the agenda. This is just as much respectful of your own time as it is mine.

6. My success with your product is the only option. (Yes, I said five, consider this a bonus item.) If you are an existing vendor, remember I don’t want to fail with your product, and you don’t want me to fail. If you see an IT organization ignoring advice or standards that could lead to technical issues and higher costs, tell them. And if they don’t listen, get someone in your C-suite to tell me. Your goal is not this quarter’s quota; it needs to be to have us standing up on the stage at next year’s conference, talking about how we created customer delight together.

Stop being a vendor. Be a partner.

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