What makes a vendor valuable to a CIO? This year, as in years past, we have been presenting our most valuable vendor rankings. I'd guess in 2009, the criteria whereby customers keep a valued vendor in the budget or decide to look elsewhere will be crucial to not just the vendor, but the customer's success also.
I don't think you have to look much further than the criteria CIOs use to judge employees and especially those employees who are headed to become mid-level managers. I just happen to have such a list courtesy of the Society of Information Managers.
Here are SIM's top skills required for mid-level managers according to a recent study. I've taken the liberty of adding a comment on how that can apply to customer and vendor relationships.
1. Ethics and Morals. My comment: It all begins and ends with honesty. Customers want to know the true state of a vendor's commitment to a product, a service or to a customer segment. Will the vendor deliver what was promised? If a vendor blows the ethics and morals requirement, they deserve whatever fate befalls.
2. Collaboration and teams. Vendors like to talk about partnerships and teams, but being on a team means sharing not just the wins but the ties and the losses also. Being a team player means you absorb some of the financial tackles a well as your customer.
3. Critical thinking and problem solving. This is a comment I hear from CIOs time and again. They want vendors that know their business and solve their business problem rather than simply try to sell a product or upgrade.
4. Communication oral and written. Can a vendor communicate clearly with the customer? Can they ditch the jargon and get to the real discussion of describing a solution? This is harder than it seems many times.
5. Project leadership. Do you see a pattern yet? Right, so far technology skills or capabilities have not been listed. I think many vendors would list their technology capabilities first. Project leadership means being able to define a project's deliverables and measurements and track those benchmarks.
6. Managing expectations and user relationship management. Does the vendor set realistic expectations on what they can deliver and what the product can accomplish. Can they describe how the user will use the product?
7. Decision making. A needed skill for a manager and even more so for a vendor. If a vendor cannot do what they say, can they make the right decision and let the customer know that things are off track?
8. Business analysis. This is further down the list than you might expect. But if you do not have the before listed capabilities, then you are not going to do a very good job at business analysis.
9. Creativity and innovation. Again, you might think these would be higher up the list, but lots of business problems are better solved by using established procedures than trying something totally new.
10. Budgets, leadership and project integration. These were three distinct items in the SIM list and while all are important, they pale in comparison with the items at the top of the list.
So there you have it. Is it crazy to say the attributes that make an employee valuable are the same attributes that make a vendor valuable? I'd argue that the most valuable vendor is the one that comes to be as relied upon as the most valuable employee.