My colleague Mike Cook and I are in the middle of a blueprint on Managed Security Services, and as we talk to client references and review provider information, I’m reminded again about how difficult it is for clients to feel like they’ve really gotten the best possible team for their engagement, based on their investment outlay.
You might be disappointed with the quality of your team, and maybe you think it’s because it isn’t as good as you thought. Maybe they oversold their capabilities or flat-out lied about what they could do. While this is possible, in my experience, it’s more likely that clients confused the provider’s corporate image with the capabilities of the specific delivery and account team on their engagements. A provider’s capabilities are never evenly distributed across the entire company and the reality is that some delivery people are better than others. Plus, providers can often be very crafty with how they allocate their best and brightest to their clients.
A while back, I was at an event, and chatting with several vendor executives. A vendor management person from a buyer client that we all knew came over and started chatting. He looked at the company names on everyone’s badges and mentioned that his company worked with every provider represented there. Then, company-by-company, he pointed at each one and said things like “Yup, we hate you guys. We’re suing you. Your team is terrible. You never give us good people.” That broke up the circle quickly as everyone made excuses to move to other conversations!
And afterwards, two things that stuck with me: the first was that buyer getting up as a speaker at the event to talk about creating shared value and better relationships with suppliers (I kid you not!) The second was one of the providers sharing with me privately his frustration with that particular buyer, saying “he wants the “A” team, but he’s paying for the “C” team. And even still, all he talks about is cutting our rates in the next negotiation. Why would I invest in a client like that?”
This story highlights several reasons that a company many not get the “A” team from a supplier that have nothing to do with the supplier at all:
1. You aren’t mature enough. Providers can tell what your internal team is capable of – both for execution and understanding. A supplier won’t give you “A” level resources if they think you can’t appreciate the value. Now, of course, the question is “if you can’t tell the difference, how do you know it’s not the ‘A’ team?” And the answer is, you probably can’t put your finger on it but you’re vaguely unhappy and realize things aren’t progressing the way you want even if you don’t know why. Smarter clients get smarter teams.
What to do about it: This one starts with increasing your own expertise first so you can ask better questions, understand the answers better, and make your own suggestions of how to remediate so you can have productive discussions with the provider. When the provider sees that you know what you’re doing, they’ll give you better resources. In the story above, you wonder why the company was suing a provider – that’s the kind of thing that happens when you didn’t scope properly or weren’t smart enough to ask for the right things.
2. You’re cheap. I hear this one a lot. As a client, you’re complaining that you got the “B” team. But when you look at your rate card, you’re getting “C” team pricing. You may even have gotten the “C” team instead of the “B” team. This is exactly what frustrated the provider executive in the story – he was delivering better resources than the client paid for and yet the client wasn’t grateful, instead the client only complained that the resources weren’t good enough!
What to do about it: If you pay for the “C” team and got the “B” team, be happy. You’re doing better than most others in your situation. If you’re paying for the “C” team and actually have the “C” team, then you need to have a discussion internally about what your goals are. Maybe you’re actually ok with the service you’re getting and the complaints are just water cooler venting. If you’re actually having a delivery problem, then you need to look at increasing what you’re paying or changing the delivery model. You can change a delivery model by seeking to automate some part of the engagement and paying a little more for the resources you’re keeping.
3. You’re a bad client. Maybe you complain about things that aren’t actually wrong. Maybe you blame the provider for problems that really resulted from your internal team. Maybe you constantly want things that aren’t in the contract and get mad when you don’t get them. There are lots of variations on this theme. Here’s the thing: no one wants get abused as work, and top talent doesn’t have to put up with bad behavior. They’ll get switched to better clients. Or, worse, you HAD the “A” team and you beat them down until they’ve devolved into “C” quality work. While I don’t know the inner workings of the buyer’s organization, I can tell you that in this conference setting where provider normally love the chance to socialize with their buyer clients, providers avoided this person at all costs. That speaks to the poor relationships this person built.
What to do about it: Of course, if there are legitimate problems with the provider’s work, address it. But if the problem is really your team, then fix your internal situation. You can train your team to address challenges differently, swap your internal provider liaison or even fire staff that are creating a bad environment. You definitely need to get realistic about your expectations of the engagement. Then let these internal changes get demonstrated to the provider staff to show them you’re no longer the client from hell.
4. You’re not important. Sometimes you can be a great client from all sides – you pay well, you’re a pleasure to work with, and you have interesting work. But maybe you aren’t a big client, or you’re not a brand name, or you in fact have a weak brand (the “loser in your industry?) The provider is likely putting top talent onto clients that spend a lot of money or that have brands that with star power or they use as client references. In the story above, the client was important in its industry but had a reputation as a bad place to work, so there wasn’t the “star power” that often comes from a well-known brand.
What to do about it: This one’s trickier than the rest, because the only way to really fix it with your existing provider is to spend more money until you’re a bigger and more important client. Sometimes you can fix it by being willing to be a reference client, tell your account team if they fix the talent situation, you’ll agree to be a reference for future prospect or analyst calls. However, if you’re willing to go through a transition, you can solve this one by switching providers. You can look for a smaller provider so you can become a “bigger fish in a smaller pond” or a player who specializes in your industry so your brand becomes more important to that provider.
The Bottom Line: You’ll only be satisfied with your service providers when you deal with your own responsibilities to the engagement.
Get more realistic with your expectations based on the factors above and decide what’s good enough for your needs. Hold the supplier’s feet to the fire, but do the same to your own team. Addressing these internal issues will give you more value from your existing deals and also position you better for future work with your key suppliers.