The five suppliers you should avoid like the plague

Posted: January 27, 2011 by FMstereo in Business Models, Case Studies, General, Market Trends
Bemoaning clients is a popular past time for agencies. The client is stupid, doesn’t know what they want and aren’t willing to pay for it. Sometimes this moaning is warranted, a lot of the time it’s definitely not.

As a client, hiring and then sustaining the relationship with the right supplier is much more difficult than is appreciated.

Following on from five clients you should avoid like the plague, here are five suppliers to look out for…

The Back Bedroom

Spare Bedroom being used as an Office

Back Bedrooms are normally One-Man-Band small operations that try to make themselves look bigger than they are during the tendering process. They operate from a back bedroom in their house, converted into an office. Sometimes you can tell straight from a name (I have a habit of avoiding anyone called Studios or Productions), sometimes by their body of work.

Of course, you would never hire these guys in the first place, but appearances can be deceptive. Remember it’s perfectly fine to ask for turnover, trading history and staff size during the tendering process.

If a previously established name is now running on a skeleton crew, it’s going to affect your deadlines. If the company doesn’t have the resources to invest in continuous training, it’s going to affect the quality of their work. If you’re going to trust your business to this agency, then it’s vital that you know as much about them as possible.

Does this mean there’s no space for small studios within your supplier portfolio? Of course not. The most successful small suppliers I’ve seen are the ones who’ve focussed on producing amazing work within a small niche, quickly becoming the go-to guys, rather than the one-man-bands who say they do everything, in the hope of being hired (something that can apply to larger agencies too!)

The Factory

Factory conditions

An agency will never start off as a Factory, but how quickly they turn into one is what to watch out for. Let me explain:

A client hiring a supplier is an admission. The admission being “I can’t do this myself, I don’t have the knowledge or experience in doing this”.
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However, the client will have business goals, and an idea on how they can be achieved. So what does The Factory do? They execute those ideas, without question, in an efficient and timely manner.

How terrible!

I am frequently wrong. I don’t know best and I’m keen to admit it, that’s why I’ve hired an agency with the expertise and know how. If I’ve been smart during the tendering process, the supplier would have done the job for someone else, and will bring that knowledge to my project, tell me (gently!) that I’m wrong, and show me a better way of doing it.

The biggest problem that occurs when your agency turns into a factory is that the magic disappears: that spark of creativity and innovation that begun your relationship wanes.

But fortunately this is a situation you can fix yourself. Any business partnership is a relationship that requires honesty on both sides, so if you feel the magic is going, tell your agency, they might even feel the same and want to fix it.

The Bait & Switch

Supplier Rickrolls

You’ll be in the tendering process, and of course during the pitch, the Bait & Switch supplier wheel out their Superstars. The discussion on creative will be done by the creative director showing work they themselves have done. Technical Lead or Head Consultant on whatever your project is about will be present, speak knowledgeably and fill you with confidence that Yes, These Are The Folks For The Job.

This is the Supplier equivalent of a RickRoll.

This is because, when you start working with the Bait & Switch, you don’t get the Creative Director, Technical Lead or Head Consultant, you get the “B” team. Even worse, sometimes you get the junior or the new guy, who the Bait & Switch are using your account to train on. However, unlike at a Hair Salon, you’re still paying Creative Director prices.

Make sure, during the pitching process, the people you speak with are the people you’ll be working with.

The Emotionally Distant

Unhappy Couple not communicating

The Emotionally Distant don’t spend time understanding your business, and don’t want to. Often the problem of large agencies, there’s a feeling of arrogance when you work with them – that this is not a relationship of equals, you have difficulty connecting. They’re professional, but not warm and sometimes not fun and rewarding to work with. They are certainly not your friends.

It’s the responsibly of your Account Manager and Project Manager, and your responsibility, to make this relationship work. In fact, your Project Manager makes or breaks a relationship, more so than an account manager, since they are responsible for delivering on the reason they were first hired.

During my career, I’ve been fortunate to have been blessed with some amazing Project Managers, including Rob BorleyNikki Parker, and Claire DeVilliers as well as some truly shocking ones (who I won’t name!).

Client/Supplier relationships only work when trust and respect, and a desire for understanding is held on most sides. If you have a sour relationship with your chief point of contact at a Supplier, you won’t be working with them for very long.

The Used Car Salesman

The Used Car Saleman

The Used Car Salesman is big on making money and getting the sale. Not a bad plan for any agency that wants to stay in business, but they way they do it is often at odds with a healthy business relationship.

You can normally tell this supplier from when you initially enquire about their business. Soon you’ll be getting a call a day asking for an update on your decision, sometimes with an incentive to make it. “Hey, I’ve been authorised to give you 10% off the annual fee and Free Dashboards if you sign up today”.

This tells me three things:

  1. Dashboards aren’t worth anything.
  2. I can probably get them to 40% if I try hard.
  3. I can get this discount any time I like.

Finger-in the air pricing models are normally based on what the Used Car Salesman will think you’ll pay. If you have to deal with these people, remember to act poor.

But sometimes, the Used Car Salesman will try a different tactic. Within months of starting the relationship – you get assigned a dreaded Business Development Manager. A permanent sales person, who make you ask yourself, “exactly whose business are they trying to develop?”.

A client/supplier relationship is one built on trust, if that trust is compromised by making the client feel they are perpetually being sold to, the client will leave.

How do you avoid suppliers like these?

The sure fire way: always ask to speak to other clients of theirs. Whilst they’ll obviously bring out the clients who’ll be suitably glowing, it gives you a great feeling of the sorts of clients they work well with, and if theirs a personality fit with you as a client.

Originally Posted on Econsultancy on 21 January 2011 12:48pm by Matthew Curry

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