in today's competitive market is very much like meeting, dating, and marrying. First you hear about someone (personal reference), then you are introduced informally (CEMA, MPI, etc.), then you meet them on your own (capabilities presentation and RFP), and possibly have a first date (first user conference or launch meeting). If your're lucky, you fall in love (you received a promotion as a result of the awesome event) and marry (develop a long-term trusting relationship) . . . or you may decide to just be friends (never work with them again).
As a member of CEMA (Computer Event Marketers Association)--by the way, a great place to meet people--I hear over and over again how every planner wants to develop strong relationships with their event suppliers. Why? Because so much is at stake. The event is often produced in front of and highlights the CEO or other senior executives. Like dating, it is a high risk, high reward situation.
During a panel on vendor outsourcing at the 1998 CEMA annual meeting, four speakers discussed their "wonderful relationship with suppliers." It was a love fest! However, not everyone in the audience had reached that ideal. So, in the spirit of establishing better outsourcing relationships, I'm going to be wearing a new hat for this column. Call me Dr. Dale because I have a cure for your outsourcing blues.
Dr. Dale's Guide to Better Outsourcing Relationships: 1. Put Yourself on the Market. There are hundreds of great companies out there. The problem isn't a lack of potential outsourcing partners in the dating pool, it's finding the right match. The only way you can find the right match is to get out there and put yourself on the market. Sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't. Call it chemistry, call it karma--not all matches are made in heaven.
2. Avoid Blind Dates. As my roommate used to say, I don't go on blind dates because I don't want to date someone who would agree to go out on a blind date. In other words, check your potential partner's references or take time to see one of its productions. The technology meetings market is a small world. Make some phone calls and find out what other people are saying. And, in my opinion, a visit to the company's office is a must. It's time and money well spent. It's like meeting your date's parents at their home.
3. Watch Out--You Marry Who You Date. The problem with dating is you sometimes get stuck with a partner that doesn't bring out your best. The longer you stay with an outsourcing firm, the more comfortable you'll get and before you know it--you're stuck with each other. Sometimes, an outsourcing relationship shouldn't go beyond the first date.
4. Date Someone Who Is Fun to Be with. Outsourcing is more about people than the hardware you are trying to manage. Date someone who will take you new places, someone you can laugh with.
5. Love's a Two-Way Street. Be careful about squeezing a new outsourcing firm. Be upfront and clear about the scope of services you need and your budget. We all know this is a two-way street. Outsourcing firms can also gouge a new client. Set clear expectations up front and you shouldn't be surprised in the end.
6. Don't Forget the "C" Word. Sooner or later, an outsourcing firm wants committment. We are all willing to date, but eventually we want the ring. It doesn't have to be a big wedding, but we want to know that we're committed to each other. That's when a trusting relationship comes.