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Avoiding Selection Error: Developing Strong Partnerships between the Vendor and Customer
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Avoiding Selection Error: Developing Strong Partnerships between the Vendor and Customer

Fear of selection error should not stop an institution from partnering with a vendor for critical infrastructure changes.


Major purchases are becoming a part of everyday life. We want to make sure we find the right product to fill the right need, and a lot of work goes into such a task. This work is mostly to avoid making a dreaded selection error.

Ah, the selection error. We have all lived with the magnitudes of such major decisions, and the disappointment of getting it wrong. For some, it’s as simple as purchasing the wrong electronic gizmo that didn’t work or ‘wow’ you. For others, it may be a real estate purchase gone badly. Or maybe it was the dreaded selection error with a significant other or partner. Regardless, we’ve all been there. Selection error consequences, or the fear thereof, can be paralyzing. Know anyone who toyed with marriage but never tied the knot? Or people who talked about getting a new job but could never pull the trigger?

More pertinent to the higher education space, what if you’re a university that has bravely decided to eschew the status quo and do something different? What if part of your action includes investing in technology to transform or improve the student experience, all toward the goal of making college more relevant for a generation of students that has come to expect a different level of service?

What if you enter these choppy waters and make a partner selection error?

As noted earlier, the implications of making a selection error can be big, but the consequences of doing nothing are even bigger, especially in an industry and at a time where it’s critical for institutions to update their infrastructure to operate more efficiently and better serve the needs of this new era of students.

Yet many institutions look at the inconveniences or risks of such moves and avoid them altogether. This is why selecting the right partner becomes so important.

Understanding Partnership

Let’s explore the notion of “partner,” too often a tired or overused phrase. Our dear Mirriam-Webster defines “partner” as:

  • One associated with another especially in an action.
  • Either of two persons who dance together.
  • One of two or more persons who play together in a game against an opposing side.
  • A person with whom one shares an intimate relationship: one member of a couple.[1]

Let me sum it up this way: you are in a close, actionable relationship — a dance. When two people dance, there are twirls and falls, good communication and bad communication. The key is to keep dancing until the song is over
or until the project is completed. Selecting the right partner enables the dance to continue until the song ends.

In regards to a university investing in technology to transform or improve the student experience, I recently had one university president tell me, “Technology is not easy. It is complex and thus can be problematic. So I expect things to go wrong, and know when they do, you – and I – will fix the problem. But the fact it’s not easy is not an excuse to do nothing. So let’s press ahead and not be shy about what lurks around the corner, as we will fix it when we get there.”

His comments were reassuring, and communicated to me that I had built a strong partnership between our two institutions — his university and Cisco.

Characteristics of a Strong Partnership

Strong partnerships between a company providing products and/or services and an institution tend to display the following traits:

1. Honesty

Both parties are open and honest in regards to quality of performance and whether either party is failing to live up to expectations. If there is a lack of honesty — or a fear of the consequences of open and honest communication — the partnership cannot work.

2. Clear Expectations

Both parties must clearly lay out their expectations of their partner before entering into a partnership. Moreover, both parties must understand what their partner expects of them, and must be honest about what they think of these expectations prior to signing on the dotted line. Once these expectations are established, each party is responsible for carrying through on its promises.

3. A Disaster Plan

As the university president noted above, new technology implementations are not easy and, entering into a partnership, both parties must accept and understand that things “break.” However, both sides should anticipate such an occurance and develop a written statement clarifying how things will get fixed when they do “break”.

4. Open Communication

Both parties must actively strive to keep their partner informed of progress, changes and roadblocks. This strong communication provides everyone with a clear understanding of the project’s status and keeps everyone comfortable. I would recommend developing regular readouts for all key stakeholders involved.

5. Fix, Don’t Blame

Again, sometimes things will go off the rails. If this happens, it’s critical to immediately address the problem, whether it is something “breaking,” a change in the partnership or something else. Resarch the “why it broke” later.

My experience with the above-noted president speaks volumes to how important transparent communications and aligned goals are between customer and vendor, as with such alignment there is a reasonably good chance a large and important project can be completed on time and on budget.

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References

[1] Mirriam Webster Online Dictionary, “Partner”. Accessed at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/partner

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3 Responses to Avoiding Selection Error: Developing Strong Partnerships between the Vendor and Customer

  1. Kylie R Reply

    2014/01/24 at 10:48 am

    Overall, these are some good points about the characteristics of a successful partnership. It should be noted that these are all “need to haves” and not “nice to haves.” Regardless of how good a vendor’s product or service is, or how well it’s pitched, a partnership won’t work if the institution foregoes the elements Temple discusses here.

  2. Tyrese Banner Reply

    2014/01/24 at 12:38 pm

    I believe it’s always wise to approach a contract negotiation with the worst-case scenario in mind, but with the expectation that the best will happen. It’s good to see an administrator acknowledging that there will be things that go wrong. Having a process for when that occurs helps to mitigate the consequences of any errors or lapses in judgement.

  3. Vic Thomas Reply

    2014/01/25 at 4:59 pm

    What we had during our contract with a vendor was a dedicated staff member who produced monthly reports on the partnership. The reports included not only metrics (e.g. how many students were being served by the technology, how many errors occurred in the system, etc.) but also feedback from staff who were using the technology on our side and staff who were taking care of the back-end from the vendor’s side. Sometimes, the reports showed our students’ feedback or feedback from senior executives on the vendor’s side. What these reports did is help to create a holistic picture of how the partnership was going. They were a springboard for discussion and, at times, forced us to have difficult conversations about the issues we were encountering based on what staff were saying. Ultimately, this helped our partnership grow. We were with the vendor for seven years and their support during that time was invaluable.

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