Learning to “Speak Software Vendor”

The AlchemistApplication Services, Business Intelligence, Business Process Review, ERP, Vendor Management

learningtospeakvendorSoftware vendors… you love them, but you hate them. A lot of customers tend to have a vendor “war story” and unfortunately, often let it bias their relationship with their vendor. Customers can have long memories when it comes to vendor issues and the “small upgrade incident of 2010”, often escalates as it gets re-told over the years.

We often hear customers say that they think their ERP software doesn’t really fit their business. They say that they’ve tried to discuss their issues with their vendor and as a response, been sold another piece of software that they say doesn’t work. We hear a lot of anger and frustration because ultimately, the customer feels that their vendor doesn’t understand either their issues or their business.

However, the true cause of the miscommunication and anger can be easy to miss. We all look for an easy solution and sometimes forget that issues in a business stem from business process issues, while issues within software may stem from configuration or training needs. This means that no amount of isolated software change will permanently fix a business process issue.

Software vendors specialise in building and implementing computer software and they do that very well. However, they aren’t experts in your business. Depending on your vendor and how they work, you might be doing the equivalent of asking a plumber to fix the electrical wiring in your house.

If you have a business process issue, it’s often counterproductive trying to engage your software vendor to resolve it. If the business doesn’t really know what it needs, chances are the vendor won’t be able to guess either. Software vendors need business to tell them what the business needs, rather than expect them to reengineer the business process and then provide a corresponding software solution.

So how do you improve and get the most out of your interactions with your software vendor?

  • Remember that you understand your business and your software vendor understands software

In order to have a productive discussion with your software vendor, make sure you’re clear about the business need and how your process will work. Let them work out how to get your software to fill the business need, not how to fix your business for you.

  • Provide the right business context.

The same way you rely on your customers from clearly expressing their need, your software vendor is hoping for the same from you. Stating to a software vendor “this is my business problem, please fix it for me”, is a quick path to misunderstanding. No business likes to be in the position where they’ve given a customer a solution based on assumptions or reading between the lines. That type of solution will generally be a bad fit and create a bad customer experience.

Give your software vendor your problem, the business context and your goal. Tell them how the process works, or if you’re planning to change it with the software change, how you want the process to work. If the change indirectly impacts other parts of the business, provide them with that knowledge too. The more information you give them, the better your chance of getting the best-fit solution.

  • Be open to the solution

Sometimes your software vendor may suggest a solution that doesn’t fit within your expected solution. Don’t immediately assume they’ve misunderstood the request. Give them the chance to prove to you that their suggested solution will work. While you shouldn’t expect your vendor to solve business problems, sometimes they’ve seen enough variations on particular business issues to advise you on what will work and what won’t work.

Don’t be fixed on a specific solution, because there could be a better option. Be open to the suggestions, see how they could work, then decide which option you’re going to take.

  • Be open to other options

There’s a chance you might be asking your software vendor to provide a service they simply don’t offer. For example, you might need a way of scanning and managing the paper flow in your business but you’re talking to your ERP vendor.

The idea that you have one key software vendor who can fill all your needs is nice, but often not realistic. By pushing your vendor down a path you may be creating an ultimately unsatisfactory resolution.

However, your software vendor may already have a relationship with another vendor that can meet your need. The advantage of going down this path is that you’re now dealing with two vendors who already relate, rather than being in the middle trying to pass communications back and forth between them.

  • Remember that they’re in the same boat as you

In the same way that you can’t always remember specific details for the business operations for each of your customers, your software vendor will have the same problem. Help them to help you by reminding them of key facts and try not to assume that a conversation you had with them a few months ago will be top of mind. Remember that they want to help you, the same way your business wants to help your customers. Give your vendor the opportunity to do that.

The key to having a great relationship with your software vendor is to bridge the communication gap. Taking the time to tweak the way you communicate with your software vendor can give you great results. Give them what they need to help you and you’re assured of a productive and successful outcome.


The Alchemist is Ruxana D’Vine and Michael Meryment, specialists in matching business needs to           technology.

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