Avoiding Selection Error: Developing Strong Partnerships between the Vendor and Customer
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.
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.
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:
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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 Mirriam Webster Online Dictionary, “Partner”. Accessed at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/partner
Author Perspective: Business