Vendors: Superheroes or Villains?

Super Hero Flying

Superhero or Villain? (from

As the lead IT guy in a small engineering firm, I get to deal with a lot of vendors. Vendors fill in my gaps: things like knowledge, skills, tools, hours and expertise. Really good vendors become my partners, my superheroes.

I have a rule of thumb about vendors—I just about always call them back. As distasteful as it can be to talk to a salesperson (if you’re a vendor or salesperson and that offends you or you don’t understand, just quit your job now), I call them back. Vendors and salespeople are in the business of selling stuff but some employ tactics that I just don’t enjoy.

Why call back?

First, why do I almost always call back vendors? Mostly because I don’t always know what gap I’m trying to fill, or when.

In one example, it took me a year before I was ready to fill a particular gap, but I knew whom to call when I was ready to buy. That relationship started as a cold call from a vendor.

In another example, a vendor called, we talked, I didn’t need what they were selling, then six months later my needs changed and now we’re engaged on a neat little project.

I consider both of those vendors to be my superheroes. Vendors can become valuable resources to a small IT shop, extensions of our knowledge base or additions to our staff.

What’s the turnoff?

Three main things can turn me off with vendors and salespeople.

First, stop hunting. A salesperson who thinks she can smell an opportunity and then begins to circle me and hunt me (cheetah circling a slow gazelle comes to mind) will find me un-receptive, even if I need what she’s selling. It’s more than just not giving me the hard sell, though. If I’m not going to buy what you have to sell today (for whatever reason), find out when to check back in and change the subject because that may be where the value is.

It takes time and effort, but find out what other business problems I’m trying to solve—maybe you have a different tool in your toolbox that I do need. If you’re only selling screwdrivers, don’t try to fix my “nail” problem, get me a hammer.

Second, don’t be slick. I’m not impressed with glossy color printouts. (Office printing is in my budget and I know what that costs: just double-sided black and white for me, please.) And don’t put it in a glossy binder. If all you’ve got is glossy printouts, go stalk some other gazelle. It’s the content that has the most value, not the presentation.

And don’t dress like a sales guy (or gal). Go for sharp, professional and comfortable, not Men’s Warehouse [sic] shirts and ties1 Again, it’s the content that has value.

Don’t use “the lingo”, just talk with me. I’m not interested in “adding new energy to that dialog”.2 We can restart a conversation, find out what we’re thinking or have a cup of coffee, but “that dialog” has enough “energy” already. Be real and engage me, but leave the lingo in the parking lot.

And lastly, provide some space. I know you have deadlines and goals, but I do, too. My “spend” may not match your “target” this quarter. My project may need another month or two to kick off. We’re a small IT shop and we tend to pivot pretty quickly but other times projects drag.

A few of my favorite things

(All of the following “favorite things” apply to the people on my team, too. Listen to them, connect them, educate them, engage them, support them.)

Listen. Understand enough about my problems that when you find the right tool or meet the right contact that you can provide that value.

Connect. Introduce me to other smart people in your organization. Link me to other clients who are in similar situations to mine.3

Educate. Expose me to wild technology that really impresses you. Tell me about your other wonderful qualities, tools and talents. I will (and do) pick up the phone when something you said three months ago becomes relevant. And when I find a colleague with a need that you can fill, I will (and do) send them your way.

Engage. I’m busy, but if what you’re doing is interesting, educational, fun or tasty, I can generally swing one vendor event in a month. Have something (or “someones”) interesting there and it can be very valuable time spent for me.

Support. We may be small, but our needs are real. One of my superhero vendors treats me like I’m their only and biggest customer. They move things for me and get things done.

So be a Superhero Vendor. You know you are one when I call you out of the blue because I know you will do it, will educate me, will get me connected, will help me solve the problem. At that point, the dollars almost seem secondary.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Even some saleswomen sometimes look like that’s where they shop.
  2. This really happened:

  3. Sometimes that means that I become the reference for your contact, not the other way around. If I know that’s what you’re doing and you’re one of my superheroes, that’s OK with me.
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