The Partnership Continuum
This month I was thinking about our Sales Kickoff—which we held this past January—and in particular, I was thinking about our partnerships with our strategic vendors. You've heard me say it before, but our strategic vendors are vital and critical to almost everything we do. Just about every solution we sell or service that we deliver is somehow related to a solution from one of our strategic vendors. That itself is a demonstration of the importance of our partnerships, and for those of you who follow and read this blog, you'll know that I write about partnership quite a bit—see my posts from here, here, here, and here. Let's explore partnership in the IT world again this month.
Having partnerships is so important (as you've heard me often say), but if those partnerships don't benefit everyone involved—the customer, the vendor, and IT solution provider—then what's their purpose? A true partnership within IT must provide value for those involved, and a return that is perceived to be higher in value than has been invested in time, personnel, and resources. All parties involved must feel that they've gotten more back than they've put in. It's that simple. On an individual level and for the partnership as a whole, all parties involved must feel that they are achieving value, and that must continue to perpetuate the partnership. That's what I call the Partnership Continuum.
In what we all do in the IT world, there are three members of the Partnership Continuum, the customer, the vendor, and the IT solution provider, and they are all equally important to the IT buying cycle. Let's discuss each.
Of course, this is what IT is all about. Being able to provide a solution and/or service (collectively tools) that help a firm be better at their core business function. If these IT tools (yes, they are just tools) don't support a firm in this way, then they are pointless. That's why firms use vendors and solution providers. The customer, vendor, and IT solution provider are all equal parts of the Continuum, but certainly, the customer is the essential part in terms of weight.
The vendor is the one who provides an innovative solution that will help the customer be better at what they do. These are the tools that drive the customer's business forward in ways that could not be done without them. The customer recognizes the value of the tools and the relationship with the vendor for their business. The vendors tend to be a bit more strategic in their working relationship with the customers, versus the IT solution providers, which tend to be more tactical.
The IT Solution Provider
The third part of the Continuum is the IT solution provider. This is the firm that, when the relationship works as it should, becomes an extension of a customer's IT department or personnel. They help guide the customer on all facets of their IT needs, where a vendor is generally only focused on the specific area their solution covers. An IT solution provider is usually more holistically engaged with the customer and tends to have more longevity working with a particular customer since they build daily working relationships. The IT Solution provider's relationships tend to remain more consistent, while with vendors, the reps and personnel tend to change more frequently. The IT solution provider helps to guide the customer on their strategic and, just as importantly, tactical and daily IT needs. The IT Solution Provider, as mentioned above, truly becomes an extension of the customer.
Now, all three of these (Customer, Vendor, IT Solution Provider) are critical to IT success. Without one, I believe it's tough to achieve that success in a meaningful way. If all parties are engaged and looking out for everyone's best interests and success, this Continuum works well, and everyone succeeds. Unfortunately, the converse is true as well.
If one party is less than interested, or not fully engaged in everyone's success, then the Continuum can have its cracks and produce the success it should. It's all about helping to drive the customer's IT and overall success—that's the end goal. If any of the parties look only at the short term or their own selfish needs, as opposed to looking at the success of the whole (and to be frank, the customer can be part of sabotaging themselves), then it doesn't work. It may work, or appear to work, in the short term, but make no mistake, in the long term, it won't.
We've seen this time and time again throughout the years. Vendors with their own agenda that doesn't align with the customers'. Customers shortchange themselves by only looking at their needs for now and not the long term, and IT solution providers that do not look at the big picture to ensure they have the customer's best interests in mind. How do you think that works in terms of driving success for the customer? The short answer is that it doesn't.
That's why partnerships are so important, particularly today, for IT success. All parties must be invested in doing what is right and what is best for the customer. The customer must be invested in their own success too, and this is not something to be trivialized or overlooked. We've seen many times where the customer is the biggest hindrance to their own success. That certainly doesn't help the Partnership Continuum that I describe here.
When all parties are aligned and looking towards what's best for the customer, and that aligns with their interests, then I believe you have something unstoppable, a true partnership that benefits all. You have a 1+1+1=5 scenario, which is a powerful ally thing, and I sadly see becoming rarer and rarer in what we all do today.
So cherish those partnerships you have (I know I do) as they will drive you forward and provide you with the sustained success you need within your IT. You'll be glad you did, as that's what partnership is all about.