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From IT vendor management to strategic partnerships

Brendan McGowan | June 2, 2016
According to the 2016 Strategic Partner Index Survey (produced by the CIO Executive Council and IDC), IT buyers and vendors need to forge relationships of trust and collaboration. Failure to partner puts both groups in peril.

He adds that faster sales processes, based on trust, reflect just one dimension of a true strategic partnership. Throughout his multiple discussions with sales and marketing executives, he notes three common themes that lead to success:

  • Showing mutual respect and genuine interest in people
  • Collaborating on interesting/challenging work
  • Gravitating towards an open, sharing, and win/win mentality

“Sheer volume is important,” says Anil Verma, associate vice president at HCL Technologies. “But to be able to access [the client’s] senior leadership is also important, such as [having client executives] part of our advisory council.”

To illustrate strategic partnership in action, Verma gives the example of two equally large clients. “[The first client] spends a lot of money with us, but is [the relationship] strategic? We are just doing a lot of work for them,” he says. “[The other client] is also spending a lot with us, but they are more strategic because we have [their] high-level executives more involved with us. We have mutual respect for each other.”

Mahesh Bhatt, Global Client Partner, Life Sciences, HCL Technologies, reflects on the moment when his key account started seeing HCL as a strategic partner rather just another transaction-based vendor: “The inflection point, if I have to pinpoint it, was during the trip to India [when the client’s IT leaders visited] a couple years ago. The passion showed by every individual, [the] understanding of client business and questions seeking to know about core business changed the perception. [The] client immediately realized that offshore teams are not just headcounts but a bunch of highly talented individuals who care about their business and are eager to make a meaningful contribution.”

Engaging a vendor’s people can be a powerful motivator, according to Ted Levine, vice president, Capgemini, who oversees the consumer products, retail, wholesale distribution and transportation sector. “If a client asks [me] how to [engage] my offshore team . . . that is a good sign that they value creating a true ‘One Team’ environment.”

CIOs, such as Caroline Faulkner of Pramerica, relate that buyers can leverage vendors more effectively when they aim to make work more meaningful and challenging. Capgemini’s Levine says he will sometimes sponsor customer relationships, often when the clients are driving a transformational agenda — and this isn’t necessarily restricted to the largest clients, he adds.

Ultimately, sales executives share that, although buyers have become more sophisticated and demanding, many of their key relationships have simultaneously become more open and collaborative. For example, buyers and sellers are more open to joint strategy development or getting into a joint business development discussion compared to a few years ago, according to CenturyLink’s Jonathan Steinberg.

“There are some newer generations of CIOs who are more sharing and collaborative,” says Capgemini’s R. Arun Kumar. “They consider a vendor not as a vendor but as a partner . . . [they] understand our broad vision and make that part of the planning process and visioning exercise. They take advantage of the relationship . . . they don’t try to squeeze us and we don’t try to give off-market rates — which is the best balanced scorecard.”


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