Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Fear Not Vendors

Sixty three years ago today Allied forces landed in France to liberate Europe as operation Overlord began. As I write this US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are without question deployed in harms way. We owe these individual's gratitude and respect for they must manage their own fear to accomplish their job. They faced and still face great danger.

There is a great deal of fear I observe almost daily coming from vendors who are certainly not faced with life threatening danger. As an independent insurance consultant most of the fear I encounter comes from vendor carrier personnel who fear the impact loss of a key account can have on their employment. This fear is very real for many. Shifts to centralized service models by many vendors have stretched many account managers very thin. This has impacted the vendors ability to spend sufficient time with their customers to stay in touch with their employers issues and objectives. The end result of infrequent interaction and common understanding between vendor and customer often leads employers to wonder why they are being ignored. When a problem invariably arises communication is difficult when neither party understands where the other is coming from.

Unfortunately, the culture at some vendors provides legitimate concerns for account managers who know all too well their job is tied to key account retention despite a caseload which affords 60-70 hour weeks just to fight service related fires. It can be a recipe not just for personal unemployment but also for burnout especially when you factor in corporate culture, re-engineering frequency not to mention family obligations--two parents working, single parents, aging family members.

Many vendor service models are predicated on hiring account managers who are fundamentally uncomfortable with conflict. This is a conscious effort to sever a relationship which could be used against the vendor who fears if they were good enough to move the business initially they could do so again to a competitor should they leave. These vendors transition their customers systematically from type A salespeople to support staff. Of course, the sales people are quite adept at communicating and understanding where their prospects are coming from because their income is tied to this skill and they further recognize that conflict presents opportunity masquerading as a problem. Using a DISC variation the sales people are primarily D & I personalities and the service personnel are normally C & S personalities.

In assessing vendors and in addressing service related issues it is often helpful to focus obviously fearful service employees on specific tasks and a time frame for completion. Fear is a palpable and discernible emotion we should all recognize. Understanding where the fear is coming from is essential to properly managing a vendor or even selecting a vendor.

Fear can be a powerful motivator for the soldier attempting to stay alive but can also be usefully harnessed in vendor management when understood and alleviated with a focus on required tasks. At the end of the day fear either works for you or against you and the choice is your own.

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