founder of naked leader
Naked Leader Week – 81 (w/c Monday 29 November 2004)
I am often asked when I started writing – my big break came with Computer Weekly, when they offered me a weekly column.
And on Thursday 21st May, 1998, they published my first ever column. One of the reasons I reproduce it here is not to show how dated it was, rather to illustrate how the world of IT has not really moved on in some area, in six and a half years.
I would like to thank Computer Weekly for showing faith in me, I will never forget that.
Crossing fingers while shaking hands used to mean the agreement was worthless, for customers and suppliers these days it more probably means wishing for luck. If the growing evidence is to be believed, trust in each other is dissolving, along with the wasted time, energy and cost involved. What has gone wrong?
Many customers, desperate to resolve a business need, take products and services without knowing exactly what will be delivered – or whether it will bring any real benefit to their organisation.
In reality most problems are caused by genuine misunderstandings, it is not in anyone’s interest for things to go wrong. In my experience the following specific actions not only reduce risk, but also help develop a trusted, strategic partnership:
- Clearly define what role the supplier or product will play and the business benefit to be gained. Identify a quantified benefit before buying.
- Do not attempt to screw your supplier into the ground during contract/price negotiations – you will pay for it later.
- Consider appointing a full time supplier “manager” whose role is to ensure relationships with all suppliers are working as agreed.
- Provide an overall standard to live up to, a code of conduct that suppliers must follow. Never openly criticise any supplier – resolve disputes behind closed doors.
- Reward supplier delivery by recommending them to other customers, giving them free publicity and involving them in decisions. I know of one company who pays early for excellent work.
- Clearly define the benefits of the technology or service – the real customer value. Only accept full payment on delivery of these benefits. That will show you mean business, and believe in your own abilities/product.
- Be honest when things go wrong. Not only will this win you respect, but every crisis is an opportunity to do that bit extra.
- Do not make your customers too reliant on your product or services. It may seem attractive to “tie them in” but it usually has the reverse effect of causing resentment. Let your delivery speak for itself.
- Bring something extra to the table – an idea or innovation for the customer – it may be completely unrelated to the proposed service.
- Know your prospective customers. Understanding their business will help you win, keep and develop it.
Sadly, trust and handshakes are not enough, and while contracts have their place (locked away out of sight) they are a last resort. When companies have to rely on contract wordings the relationship is, most likely, beyond repair.
Somewhere between the two extremes of litigation and mutual adulation lies the winning balance that not only avoids serious dispute, but also gives the exciting possibilities of ever closer alliance and opportunity for mutual benefit.
At the moment it is out of control. That is costly enough for the companies involved – for our industry reputation, already under enormous threat, it could be disastrous.
With love always