5 Steps to bridge the 'Chasm of Disappointment'

01 August 2017

The relationship between what a client wants, and what a supplier delivers, is a complex one. It’s a bit like teenage dating. At the start, it’s all quite exciting with seductive looks across the board room. Then it gets to the point where some sort of commitment needs to be made, and things become a bit more focused. Order placement is usually done in the back of a car somewhere, then there is a period of adjustment whilst dynamics change because of this new relationship. This article should not be used as a judgement on my teenage dating approach.

Realistically though, the process of supplier engagement should be simple. Client knows what they want, articulates it – supplier confirms they can deliver, and they deliver it. However, the most frequent problem I am invited in to look at is ensuring that this process works smoothly, or to mop up the consequences once in contract. How hard can it be?

So rather than sell everyone full fat consulting rates; (why would I want to do that?), I thought it would be nice to share 5 simple things that clients can do to avoid the post contract miff moment. There is nothing worse than buying a new toy, and hating it within the first few days.

Write stuff down - clearly

As painfully obvious as it sounds, having something in writing will save the day. Even if it’s an overhead to document all meetings, actions, comments etc. it will ensure that there can be no miss-interpretation during service delivery. One of my clients took the functionality of a specific service on trust. He didn’t check the contract “cos they are good lads”, but after signature, established that the primary benefit of the service he was looking to procure didn’t exist. That’s quite difficult to unpick.

Think of the worst case, and contract for it

As lovely as the sales guys are, they are likely to leg it as soon as their commission cheque clears. Everything is rosy in their garden, so nothing bad ever happens. In the real world though, shit does happen. Companies go bust, services go down, data gets leaked, people change jobs. Ensure you have thought of all the serious stuff that could happen. What do you practically want the consequences to be and ensure the supplier has legally committed to supporting that outcome. Remember to suss out what happens to anything you own (data, software, IP) if the supplier lets you down.

Take references of similar projects – ideally informally

“Yes of course we have done this a million times before”. This might actually be true, but it is significantly more credible when you hear it from someone who has actually seen the benefit. Supplier provided references are a good start but are usually selected because of the positive nature of the relationship that supplier has. A better gauge would be an informal reference, not offered by the supplier. Devious though this may sound, look at the sales persons LinkedIn profile and see if you have any mutual connections – call them up and ask them what they think? Sales guys use LinkedIn like a black book, so the chances are you will see other prospects/clients on their LI profile.

Be open about budget

From a buyer’s perspective, this is sometimes difficult. You are looking to purchase something, you probably have a budget, but if you tell the supplier what it is they will just quote £5 less than this to win the business. They do this by descoping items to hit a price point, then try and contract change these items back in after you are committed to them as a supplier.

If you can, write down and send the supplier what you expect for your budget, and what your budget is. Go as far as to explain that you will have no money after the initial transaction to “enhance the functionality” so if they want to win they need to deliver all the bits you need for the money you have. It helps the supplier too, they can qualify out if they can’t support your project and this could give you a justification to get more budget.

Pick a trustworthy supplier

Eggs. Grandma. Suck. Clearly you are not going to pick a shady supplier are you. The problem is people buy from people, and most of us default to trusting the people who are the face of the supplier. Behind them there are a whole team of people who will deliver the work – go and meet them. Go for a beer if you can to get the cut of their jib BEFORE you trust the sales guy. Test their capacity, ability to complete, social skills, ability to deal with conflict. Any red flags, raise to the sales guy as soon as you can. Don’t contract for something just because the lead sales guy seemed like a sensible chap.

Being honest, I engaged on a project and forgot a number of the above. The overhead of climbing out of the chasm is significantly higher than avoiding the problem in the first place. The delays cost.  I’ve learnt the hard way, try not to yourself….

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