Friday, January 8, 2010

Some Advice for Vendors

As with any new field, CSR is a growing area in need of support. To fulfill that need, hundreds and hundreds of vendors pop up every day, trying to create solutions that will make CSR practitioners' lives easier and help companies realize their CSR objectives.

Hardly a day goes by when I'm not contacted by someone offering consulting services, software, research or something else. The service providers range from established to start-up and it becomes difficult staying on top of all the different vendors and products out there.

I've had my fair share of interactions with different vendors and it shocks me that some act so unprofessionally. After all, representatives are ambassadors of their company's brands and they should realize that their actions reflect on the product or service they're trying to sell. Below are a few experiences I've had that clearly fall into the "don't" category.

Don't come on too strong. One vendor approached my company with a new service that purported to catapult our CSR communications into the stratosphere. An account manager contacted me, my boss and three people in our Corporate Communications team. Once we realized he'd contacted all of us, I scheduled a meeting between him and some other relevant employees. On the call, he was aggressive and pushy, completely turning us off. We told him that we were not interested in his services and he continued to call anyone he could find at the company, aggressively marketing his product even if they were not connected to CSR. All calls and messages came back to me and I stopped responding.

Don't stand me up. I recently scheduled a conversation with a vendor simply because my boss asked me to. I had no idea what the product was or how it related to CSR and neither did my boss, but she asked me to find out what they had to offer. So, I scheduled a conversation and web demo with a representative and waited at the appointed time, but no one called me. Four hours later, I received a rambling voice message informing me that his calendar notified him of a meeting but that he had no idea why he was scheduled to talk to me.

Don't insult a potential customer. A colleague and I were on a conference call/web demo of a software solution that we were really interested in learning about. Toward the end of the call, when we started to discuss cost and budget, I mentioned a figure that seemed reasonable to me, but was negotiable. One of the executives said that we shouldn't even bother continuing the conversation because they wouldn't do business with us at such a low price. A few months later, when a sales representative called to pitch me a new product, I didn't return his call.

Don't assume I have a ton of money. Right or wrong, CSR is often viewed as a cost center and we don't have huge budgets to work with. The money we do have is often tightly controlled and every penny counts. Just because our marketing department may spend millions of dollars, don't think our department has millions of dollars to spend. On anything.

Don't bash your competitors. I once was on the phone, learning about a service and I asked the sales representative to compare his service to a competitor's that seemed similar in my mind. He then flat-out insulted the competitor's product but offered no points of distinction. It seemed like a defensive, illogical and ungraceful response - not exactly the type of people I like to do business with.

Don't create an unnecessarily awkward situation. This one's debatable, but once a vendor invited me and a few of my co-workers to their company holiday party. The next morning, when I chatted with our account representative, I learned that the party featured a table where a naked couple slowly ate a meal. This, apparently, was performance art. I also started to hear stories about how employees were getting plastered, behaving out of hand and hooking up with each other. I was sort of sad to miss the show, but overall I was grateful I didn't see any of the people I worked with in embarrassing situations.


  1. Good advice Marcus. Made me chuckle a bit b/c your points seem quite straight-forward.

    My experience has been that CSR partnerships are best developed organically and in alignment with authentic, shared values. If a vendor is forcing a relationship, you can be quite assured that that same approach will manifest itself in the execution of a program, and consumers will push back the same way.

    Deron Triff

  2. Thank you for the comment, Deron. It does seem like basic business conduct, but it's surprising how some vendors act!

    Fair or not, these representatives are the face of their companies and I can't help but judge products and services based upon the people with whom I interact!