Don't Pay a Consultant Before Chatting With Your Vendor
Even the savviest entrepreneurs doesn’t know it all. They partner with a vendor for help with a specific aspect of their business, not realizing many vendors will discretely provide critical information about macro-level topics.
Let me explain.
As the CEO of a software company, I visit our clients on a recurring basis. Once on a visit to the Stanford Center for Professional Development, then-Executive Director Andy DiPaolo invited me into his office and abruptly asked, “Shaul, you visit schools all over the country, What are you seeing out there? What are schools doing that’s innovative and unique? What do you see coming down the line? What’s your perspective on the future?”
I was dumbstruck, as if I was being tested, before I realized that Andy, a well-respected, insightful individual, believed my perspective was just as valuable to him as our software running his division. He made me realize that, through my travels and interactions, I was in a unique position to analyze information on numerous units and provide a perspective that, in its totality, would be different from any one of the inputs. I realized my perspective was greater than the sum of its parts.
Vendors know about more than just the products or services they sell. Astute vendors see both the forest and the trees. Dealing with a plethora of customers provides a broader view of the industry than the vantage point of any individual client. Associations and conferences try to provide a holistic view but one annual event can't substitute for conversations with many stakeholders, across the country, every day.
Vendors compete with other vendors but they also compete, in a sense, with in-house processes. If your staff can adequately and efficiently handle a job, there’s no need for outside help. Vendors have to understand best practices and solve problems in an efficient and cost-effective way.
An entrepreneur must be an expert in their core business, but it is an inefficient use of resources to try being an expert is every peripheral process. For example, our firm serves the higher education marketplace. The institutions we work with are experts in educating students and ensuring those students become successful alumni. Digital infrastructure is critical to their business but it isn’t their core expertise. On the other hand, we are in the tech business. We understand things like why PA-DSS security certifications matters, the importance of intelligent workflows and best practices for disaster recovery.
While expertise is important, so are cold hard costs. The bottom line is that when businesses focus on their core competencies, they don’t have to worry about creating one-offs without any kind of economy of scale.
Vendors see first-hand what clients struggle with and excel at. Understanding specific micro issues is important for a company. When you can overlay that onto the macro industry landscape, new ideas become revolutionary. Trends are easier to see and strategic priorities become apparent. From this awareness comes an understanding and insight that is truly valuable. It is this knowledge that, properly harnessed, manifests itself in vendor products, services and even informal conversations, to move your industry into the future.
While vendors don’t have all the answers either, entrepreneurs can benefit greatly from their vast experiences. You just need to ask.