“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half-hour at the table, then YOU are the sucker.” 

That’s a quote from Mike McDermott, the gifted poker player portrayed by Matt Damon in the classic 1998 film, “Rounders.” While we would never suggest that government agencies, public housing authorities, and transit authorities are suckers, if a software/hardware vendor takes advantage of them, we do want to help these organizations receive the high-quality services they’re paying for.

Here are a few warning signs that might indicate a vendor is taking advantage of you.

They prioritize upselling over your long-term strategic goals 

A good vendor or account manager acts as an advocate for a client organization. Of course, technology providers and the account managers they employ make money from clients by upgrading their solutions and adding new modules — it’s a fair business model.

However, it’s unacceptable for a vendor or one of their account managers to push an organization to upgrade or add modules without understanding their core business processes or long-term strategic goals.

Commitment to the organization is lacking

A vendor should always be fully committed to an organization that has hired them for their services. This means, among other things, that they remain fully engaged, checking in frequently with clients to review the products they’re providing, and offering resources to help client staff develop relevant skills. Additionally, competent vendors should make regular onsite visits to speak with staff, especially those who use their solutions often.

One of Avèro Advisors’ clients, a Public Housing Authority (PHA), has an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution provider who hasn’t made an onsite visit in more than ten years. We find that rather shocking. The organization pays this vendor tens of thousands of dollars every month, and the vendor hasn’t bothered to visit them in a decade.

Regular check-in calls, semi-annual onsite visits, demonstrate that a vendor is truly committed to an organization, not just to the monthly check. Conversely, a vendor who fails to provide these things demonstrates an attitude of neglect, at best, if not outright incompetence.

They aren’t sharing information regularly

When a vendor has their clients’ best interests in mind, they share information regularly. In particular, a vendor should be thrilled to announce upgrades, patches, and bug fixes to their product, because these enhancements make the system operate better and lead to a better customer experience.

It’s always a troubling sign when upgrades are thrust upon clients with little-to-no heads up or instructions about how to implement them, no opportunity to test them, and no detailed information about what has been changed.

A competent vendor will always share this kind of information with clients readily, and at the same time, they will continually gather information from superusers of their solution in order to drive the enhancements they create. After all, if one organization needs a specific revision to the solution, there’s a good chance that other organizations do as well.

Not actively seeking to understand business operations

In order to provide solutions that create efficiencies for an organization – and the clients that the organization serves – vendors must understand their core business processes. Indeed, it would be fair to say that a vendor who doesn’t actively seek to understand a client’s core business processes is not a strategic partner.

Again, let’s consider the example of the PHA. In fiscal year 2012, Congress authorized the HUD Appropriations Act, which allowed public housing authorities to convert units from their original sources of HUD financing to project-based Section 8 contracts.

A primary benefit is that projects financed under RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) are no longer prevented from securing private sources of capital financing, which allows property owners to address the deferred maintenance issues that have caused public housing and other HUD-funded rentals to deteriorate nationally.

However, in the eight years since the program was established, the Knoxville PHA’s ERP vendor has failed to make a single onsite visit in order to review their core business processes under the new program.

If a vendor refuses to check-in, come onsite, and review how staff is performing their core business processes under the new government-regulated guidelines, it’s going to be very hard to determine how to improve the system to meet those new guidelines.

Nonresponsive to ongoing issues and help-desk tickets

When an organization has a problem with a product or service, the vendor’s response (or lack thereof) provides a clear snapshot of their level of commitment.

With increasing demand and expectation for streamlined operations, as well as an increasing number of options for streamlining, vendors have no excuse for dropping the ball on help-desk tickets. Despite this, many vendors continue to struggle with this critical aspect of customer support.

Trust is foundational to the vendor-client relationship, but it’s not freely given as trust must be earned. A client organization bears responsibility for communicating the details of any issues they bring to the vendor’s attention, but the vendor is responsible for working diligently toward a solution.

In turn, both are responsible for communication and documentation, and both must work together to establish procedures that will support an effective resolution from start to finish. However, a vendor who fails to respond to issues promptly will never earn a client’s trust.

Constant account manager turnover

Account manager turnover can become a source of deep frustration for any client organization because it requires a new relationship to be formed, business subtleties to be discussed all over again, and strategic goals to be re-explained.

Account manager-client relationships are rarely built overnight. It takes time for a new account manager to learn about an organization and get comfortable with their people and processes, and it also takes time for an organization to fully accept and trust a new account manager. Frequent turnover hinders this relationship-building, which can make it difficult to communicate, address issues, and find the best solutions.

Ultimately, a vendor-client relationship requires a lot of trust. Vendors must see clients as more than just a source of income and should take the initiative to earn trust through regular contact, communication, and rapid response.

A vendor who allows multiple years to pass without a single onsite visit or check-in probably doesn’t have a client’s best interests in mind. Similarly, a vendor who fails to fully communicate all upgrades, patches, and bug fixes, understand their client’s particular needs, or who simply pushes upgrades and modules, might not adequately value the relationship.

In the end, an organization needs to know that they can trust their vendor to maintain ongoing contact, address relevant issues promptly, and develop the right solutions. If a vendor consistently fails to do so, it might be time to look somewhere else.

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