Pursuing a relationship with a strategic vendor is hard to navigate.  The goal is often to find the perfect vendor that works more as a partner than simply, you sell I buy.   What characteristics define great vendors?  How have billion dollar companies such as SAP, IBM and Microsoft consistently retained loyal partners?  In order for vendors to differentiate themselves from the rest of the industry there are several factors which come into play.   To start, there needs to be a focus on customer service, the providing of core business processes as well as flexibility and collaboration.

The technology and IT services vendors provide is often vital to core business processes, but how does the relationship extend into a partnership?  To start off, CIOs considering a vendor to handle vital operations such as financials, supply chain management and manufacturing operations, should do marketplace research prior to a search.  It helps to have practical expectations in mind.

Since CIOs are mainly charged with vendor relations and management, they should have knowledge of the ecosystem.  Sales people making cold calls are obviously going to try and sell product, they operate on commission.  Taking this fact into account can alleviate the nuisance of communicating with vendors.

By assessing the style and strategy of successful vendors who tend to function as partners, CIOs can increase their ability to identify vendors who can provide long term value.  In addition to the collaborative components of vendor relationships, certain vendors can possess valuable connections to other organizations.

Through outsourcing, consulting, integration and software development, vendors in good standing will have great references on hand.  A surefire characteristic of a great vendor who acts as a partner would be transparency and openness to collaboration.  Without a mutual understanding of joint value between an enterprise and its vendor, true partnerships cannot form.

Last but not least, customer service.  Vendors are sometimes known for a lack of customer service.  In order to assess vendors there are three questions you should ask from references.

First ask if the vendor actually succeeded in achieving the business requirements of projects.  If references state projects continually expanded in price while quality suffered, move on to the next one.  Secondly, ask about the overall interaction experience throughout the vendor relationship?  Was it easy to interact and communicate with the vendor?  Small yet important aspects of communication such as respect and keeping cool under pressure are great signs.

Finding a vendor who acts as a partner requires mutual understanding and collaboration on both ends.  Without some understanding of the vendor marketplace it will be difficult to find a long term partner. Likewise, vendors with limited knowledge or experience regarding a business’s core processes and unique industry characteristics can hamper the potential for long term collaboration.