When I’m engaged in selecting a technology vendor I often rely on a simple heuristic to discern whether I am getting a vendor or a partner, whether I am getting a company focused on their success or one that recognizes that my success is their success.

The method (remember I mentioned it was simple) is to count how many times they say words that matter to you.  Or mention concepts of importance to your success.  When you are beginning the process of selecting a vendor listen to what they say.

If the people you interact with use words like “customer, satisfaction, value, use” their culture is likely focused on your success.  You may have a good vendor and a partner if the:

  • Conversation is focused on your needs
  • Discussion seeks to uncover what your company is trying to achieve
  • Discovering your business objectives is the vendor’s key purpose

If your vendor uses words like “product, specification, function” you can be sure their culture is focused on producing a quality product.  As Seinfeld might say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  But savvy buyers realize that even quality products are better with great service.  Even if the product looks good, you may have a bad vendor if the:

  • Selection/conversation is a monologue versus dialogue
  • Monologue focuses on what the vendor’s product does

Of course you still have to make a technology selection.  (Does the vendor/product meet your needs?)  But you also have to be on the look out for nuances in the discussion.  About five years ago I was charged with making a vendor selection for communications services which we would use to create a new service offering.  After a comprehensive RFP process we whittled the list from ten companies to two — AT&T and Sprint.  The products themselves were commodities and had few differences in price, functionality, and quality.  One vendor asked “why” we were planning to use the service and “how” we envisioned delivering value to our customers.  Guess which vendor won the business?  Guess which vendor acted like a partner in our success?  The other vendor?  They never really understood the concept even with repeated prompting.  (Drop me a note if you want to know the winner.)

The pivot point is that given the choice between companies with similar capabilities, choose the company that has your interests as their goal.  Choose the company that is willing to demonstrate that commitment over and over again.  Many companies can compete with one another on an equal footing with regard to technology.  Few companies beat the company that is focused on, engaged in, and dedicated to their customers’ success.

How do you tell if you’ve selected a customer-focused company?

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