Monday, October 06, 2014

The importance of the client/supplier relationship


This is a slightly corny sounding subject at first sight, but it really is true and it really is important! The following are some of the things I have learned over the years which you might like to consider when buying and then implementing a fundraising, membership or CRM database (or anything else come to that!):
  • The first thing which helps in this area is that hopefully you will consider supplier empathy and approach even during procurement. Especially the lead/key staff you will be working with. If you select a company where their staff do appear awkward/unhelpful/blunt or just don't care about what you are doing, then that isn't going to help... You might do this if everything else about the company and software was so fantastic that you had to do so, but personally I wouldn't advise it. (This may be an obvious thing for me to say but in the NFP sector this can truly make a difference, compared to a hard-nosed commercial organisation)
  • The supplier should be on your project board/steering committee during implementation. This will really help the relationship and project. And if you also need to hold private board meetings without the supplier then that's fine, just make sure they are part of the key meetings.
  • Set ground rules for both parties in your kick-off meeting: start as you mean to go on. It's the best time to do this when you are both happy and enthusiastic!
  • Invite your supplier's key staff to one of your organisation's away-days, SMT meeting, fundraising planning workshop etc at the start of your implementation. It will give them a far better insight into what your charity does, what is important to you, what your staff are like and so on. (NB For suppliers who work with commercial clients too, you might well find their staff find it a refreshing thing to be working for a good cause - and the more engaged they are, the more likely they will pull out the stops to help you when push comes to shove).
  • Don't squeeze suppliers on costs til they bleed - it will backfire. They almost certainly will be a for-profit company so understand you do need to treat them as such.
  • Your contract should include a SLA (Service Level Agreement).
  • Ensure you have an Escalation Policy which covers what you will do and who will do it - for both parties - if anything does need escalating.
  • Build a more personal relationship with the supplier's key staff so that if you do have a problem or an awkward thing to discuss then it should be easier. Ditto if they need to come to you about such issues. Visit their office, meet their other staff, meet their CEO (or as high as you can go - you may not meet Marc Benioff or Satya Nadelle themselves!)
  • And when things go wrong, discuss them as openly and as honestly as possible. Don't shout! (I know this is basic advice but I have seen situations when it has not been followed...)

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