“So you recommend that your client selects Vendor A for their software implementation, but you don’t insist on it?” I asked the young woman.
“Right,” she said.
“But from what you told me, Vendor B (their other choice) almost always fails. You said they haven’t had a successful implementation for years?” I asked.
“Yes, but sometimes the client still picks them,” she said.
“They must have very good sales and marketing,” I noted.
“Yup. They just can’t execute,” she said.
“Well how do you and your company feel when they get selected? I mean, you are there to help your client be successful and, when they pick Vendor B, you know they’re not going to be,” I said.
“That’s true, but on the flip side we know we’re going to be in that place as consultants, billing, for a long, long time. We call Vendor B, ‘The Drugs’ (as in getting hooked on), because the client gets sucked in and can’t get out without our help. It’s strange, but we now have a reputation of being able to ‘help’ clients who have trouble working with Vendor B,” she said.
“That’s crazy,” I said. “How can a business operate with such a warped code of ethics? I mean, I know you don’t own the place, so you have limited say in how things get done, but I have to believe that, long term, your company can’t be successful. I just want you to know that if you ever go out on your own or look to work somewhere else, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve talked to a lot of successful people and I can tell you that Boy Scouts do win, nice guys don’t finish last.”
“Well, it’s working for now, though I do have to pad our estimate a bit in case our client picks Vendor B,” she said.
“Let me explain to you why this is crazy and why it’s going to fail long term. Your organization has, and will continue to be defined by, the reputation you earn based on client outcomes. So what’s going to happen if you keep going down the road you are on? You are going to have a very mixed bag of outcomes. You will have some happy clients who chose Vendor A, but you will also have a group of unhappy clients who picked Vendor B. They will say they hired YOU to manage the overall project and it’s in the toilet. They will likely not get into the nuances of third-party software implementers and recommendations versus final decisions. You will have a muddy record replete with high estimates (which will make you lose some deals right off the bat), poor outcomes, and unhappy customers.
Now let’s consider how you will fare against a competitor who does things the right way. That company will not consider letting any of their clients select Vendor B. They will say to their customers that if they wish to work with Vendor B, they won’t be working with us. They will let the client know of Vendor B’s outcomes, and that they care too much about their client’s success, and value their own time too much, to wade into that swamp. They won’t have to build Vendor B padding into their estimates so they will be cheaper and win more deals. They will have a much higher percentage of faster engagements and happy customers who will tell others about them, customers who will also come back for help with other projects. Over time they will begin to dominate the marketplace.”
“Again, I understand your position, but even though you are not an owner, you will not emerge from this place unscathed — your reputation will take a hit, perhaps not an insurmountable hit, but a hit nonetheless, and one that becomes deeper every day,” I said.
“And again, I just want you to know that it does not have to be this way. You can and will be more successful by focusing on client outcomes and only doing that which will be in their best interests. The money will come,” I said.
From the young woman, I got nods and an open ear, but also a clear sense of, “It is what it is for now.” And so it is and so it goes, and so many of you know from personal experience as both purveyors and consumers of services. You also know from personal experience or reliable sources that I’m right — it doesn’t have to be that way. Hopefully my young friend will come to appreciate that.