‘Partnership’ is the new best practice in vendor relationship management

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The world is swimming with technology applications that are made to solve problems that large companies face. For organizations, the holy grail is often to crack into the ‘corporate client’ market. Whether it is enterprise software with long sales cycles and fully customized deployment, or a bottom-up effort getting individual staff members to push for company adoption of tools such as Dropbox or Slack—the key to success for many organizations is getting corporate buy-in and adoption of paid service offerings.

But not all corporate clients are equally attractive for vendors, especially those working in emerging spaces or applying new technologies in more traditional sectors, like banking.

We recently had great success working with SAS on the world’s first large-scale full production deployment of the SAS Viya software on Google Cloud. Our eagerness to listen and learn doesn’t stop with ATB customers, so we sat down with the project team to hear what made this project so successful and what makes a great client-vendor partnerships with the types of innovative technology companies that we’re eager to work with.

The first thing we noticed when sitting down with the team was how tough it was to spot who works for ATB and who works for the vendor. From SAS, “the greatest compliment we can get is to sit down with an executive team and have them think that we are in-house staff.”

Once we figured out who works where, we dug into the details to find out how the ATB + SAS Viya deployment team eschewed the vendor-client relationship to build a collaborative partnership. Here are a few of the things they shared.

Get organization-wide buy in.

It is not enough for the direct client area to be great at collaborating with vendors. For institutions like ATB, deploying any type of new software or program requires buy-in and collaboration from many different business areas.

Though there were some risks in undertaking an un-tried deployment of the SAS Viya software on Google Cloud, the project had strong support, not only from executive and project teams, but also procurement, finance, and legal. This was crucial to successful launch and keeping the project on schedule.

Nothing beats face-to-face.

Of course, electronic communications are fast and efficient, but building personal relationships and getting key parties in one room for important brainstorming or decision making can make or break a project. For the SAS Viya deployment, project members from Google, Hortonworks, SAS, and ATB gathered in Edmonton for brainstorming and project planning at the outset. Throughout the project, morning standups via video conference made sure that all parties were in the loop, with open lines of communication.

A series of in-person workshops allowed the multi-party project to work through issues like risk identification, security requirements, and optimizing network performance.

Start with trust.

Our partnerships with vendors are more like a marriage than a sales transaction. And just like in a successful marriage, both parties need to be committed to giving trust freely, and earning it continuously.

We’ve learned the hard way not to give specifications to a vendor and to blindly trust that they will deliver. But those challenging relationships haven’t stopped us from giving trust where it is deserved. Trust means not jumping to contract terms and fighting to be right, but working through problems to find a common solution. Trust means being upfront about intentions and providing clear and continuous feedback about what is going well and what is not. Trust sometimes means forgiving mistakes and working to improve together.

Don’t just sell, solve.

Just because a tech startup got face time with a corporate client, doesn’t mean it is a good fit. Both parties can suffer when there is misalignment between the client needs (or what they think they need) and what the vendor intends to design, or what they think the market needs. For a tech startup, landing a huge corporate client and then finding out that what they want requires a custom-build, or differs from where the product was headed, can derail future growth potential.

Similarly on the client side, putting time and money into a technology solution that doesn’t fit the exact use-case can be a setback at best, or detrimental at worst.

With SAS, we dug into the use-case very deeply and found fundamental alignment to explore the new area of deploying SAS Viya entirely in the cloud. Together, we architected the solution, working on every piece of hardware being installed, the specs, the software, and configuration.

But the first step was making sure that we had alignment between the client-problem and the vendor solution.

Ask the right questions.

When we are working with a new vendor, there are some very telling questions that indicate whether it is going to be a great partnership. Here are just a few of the questions we love to hear.

  1. Can you tell me about a time you successfully worked with a vendor my size?

  2. Can we send a staff member to work out of your office?

  3. Can I call you unannounced?

  4. How can I help you succeed? What other solutions have you tried?

At ATB we strive to be the type of client that vendors dream of partnering with. Our teams are made up of passionate people, working on exciting projects to leverage data and change our business operations with the ultimate goal of making our customers happy.

We’re not just picking a product to buy, we’re choosing life-long partners and aligning ourselves with people. Both the client and vendor are better off working in partnership; the evidence is clear that we can achieve more in architecting solutions together.

Just like our partnership with our customers to help them create happiness in their lives, we look to partner with vendors who understand why we care and share our passion, determination, and commitment to creating value. Interested in a technology partnership with ATB? We’d love to hear from you.