Software vendor/customer relationship: Partnership or not?

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Many times when software companies are selling to new prospects they speak of forming a partnership between the two companies. But what does that really mean? I had the opportunity to meet with some customers recently and was able to discuss with them what they looked for in a successful software vendor relationship. Develop mutual trust The first thing customers want is a good personal relationship and a feeling of mutual trust. I find that the best way to start a successful relationship is to have a face to face meeting at the beginning of working together to define that relationship.  This includes defining a communication plan, who to communicate to, and when. Defining what kind of information will be shared amongst the two parties. But most importantly, develop a personal rapport with the customer. Listen Listening is critical. Customers want to work with people who will listen to them.  Listen to them about their business, where it is headed, and how it impacts the use of software. Many times this means that the customer will request enhancements to the software. Most software companies have mechanisms to allow customers to request product enhancements. However, a customer not only wants the ability to request a product enhancement, but also work with the software company on defining use cases to ensure the requirements are met. Most importantly, the software company must provide status of product enhancement requests.  Nothing frustrates a customer more than spending the time to request enhancements but never to hear anything back.  In a true partnership there will be regular communication between the software company and the customer to understand and communicate on product roadmap, customer business needs and how the two can work together to accomplish goals. Both companies must also listen to each other when they need help. Customers need to feel that if they ask for help that someone will listen. I don’t think they expect they will necessarily get everything they want, but they expect a partner will make every best effort to help them to the best of their ability. If a customer feels like their vendor never responds to any requests for help they will likely look to replace that vendor with one who will help them when required. Conversely, when the software vendor needs help with references or case studies or something to that affect, they should be able to ask their customers for help. Be flexible Customers also expect their software vendors to be flexible.  If the relationship isn’t working, be flexible to change the terms. This could be developing relationships with new people at the customer or vendor. It could also mean changing the commercial terms, but really what it means is that customers want the vendor to listen to their problems and adjust the terms to help them. Customers also need to be flexible with the vendor. Occasionally the vendor may need to ask favors of the customer. Customers are much more willing to help the vendor if there is mutual trust and if the vendor has listened and helped the customer in the past. I do believe software vendors and customers can form true partnerships based on trust and mutual listening. The key is for both parties to work on the relationship and be there for each other when required. What has been your relationship with your software vendors?  What can they do better to help you?  I am always looking for ways to improve relationships and would love to hear your suggestions.

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Discussions

Hossein Fakharzadeh
- April 05, 2011 at 3:49pm
I really enjoyed your opinions. They reminded me the systems engineering and integration life cycle.
Every systems engineering procedure starts with customer requirements, needs, and specifications. Most of the tradinional systems eng. processes do not pay attention to the feedback loops in their step-by-step processes. As we know, the general systems integration life cycle phases are as follows:
Definition
Development
Deployment
which is usually called 3D. In each of these three phases we have to perform three steps as follows:
Formulation, Analysis, and interpretation.
3D phses are branched down into some subphases as follows:
Definition: consists of these sub-phases:
Requirement and specification
Preliminary conceptual design

Development is composed of three sub-phases:
Logical design
Detailed design
Operational implementation

Deployment is composed of two sub-phases:
Evaluation and modification
Operational deployment

My goal of listing these steps and phases are as follows:
1.In each phase and sub-phase, system designer has to be in close relationship with its customer. If this lack of communication exists, designer will go through the steps without getting any feedback from customers. This is just wasting time and cost because customer needs may change in the meantime or designer's interpretation of customer requirements have not been correct.
2. After passing each step, the result of previous step has to be checked with the customer to make sure systems designer is on the right track.
3. After performing ehact phse, we have to keep an eye on the previous phases to make sure the outputs of the previous phases are still valid.
4. Once we are done with the systems integration and deploy the system in customer environment, this is just a new era!
Customers might not consider all their requirements at the beginning. We have to take this into consideration and be prepared to response to their new arised need really fast.
This is the time for Deming Cycle:
plan–do–check–act
PDCA (plan–do–check–act) is an iterative four-step problem-solving process typically used in business process improvement.

I wish my comments are helpful.
Gala
- April 14, 2011 at 9:36pm
Both the article and comment are interesting. I particularly would like to stress that communication has to be imporoved to the highest level, offering feedback and updates when needed. If communication falls the parts involved won't have the chances in understanding mutual needs and suggestions in order to reach better results on partnership.

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