[Guest Blogger Mark Gediman]

My phone is ringing off the hook these days with folks who want to do me a favor and negotiate with my vendors for me.  First, yes, I did say “my” vendors even though I know that they are here to service the needs of the firm.  I am a firm believer (no pun intended for a  change)  in looking at our vendor relations as a partnership.  It requires cooperation, negotiation and a measure of trust.  Adversarial relationships don’t work.  For example, I have a very good realtionship with an online service vendor.  I have done white papers and testimonials for products of theirs  I like and, in return, they listen to (and occasionally implement) my suggestions to improve their service and/or product.  When we have a problem with one of their products, they quickly respond with several technicians to resolve the issue.  They also provide weekly office hours in our main office.  Now, a mid-level firm not headquartered in a major metropolis cannot usually expect to receive this level of service.  But yet we do.  This approach has given us a contract we’re happy with as well as a vendor we know we can count on to go above and beyond.

Second, most of these consultants don’t know me or my firm. All firms are not the same.  The culture, habits and processes of the attorneys in my firm are unique and a “one size fits all” approach won’t work for us.  The fact that they listen to my feedback puts me in a unique position to influence the developoment of the product to meet our particular needs.

Third, I’m starting to hear from vendors that they will not deal directly with these firms.  So it seems to me likely that just using them as advisors would stand a good chance of wiping out any savings you may realize from their services.  When you couple this with the Non-Disclosure Agreements most of us are forced to sign with our vendors, it makes this situation problematic.

This is not meant to condemn these folks or deny them an opportunity to earn a living as they choose.  Some of these consultants, having worked for a particular vendor in the past, can provide unique insight into that vendor’s sales practices and processes.  Much like the former IRS agents who open tax consultancies.   Some Librarians don’t like to negotiate and this is an alternative for them to avoid the “unpleasantness” of the negotiating process.  My view is that these consultants may have some value as advisors.  However,  they can interfere with the partnership between the firm and the vendor.

  • Anonymous

    It seems online vendors have been particularly agressive (with questionable business practices and poor ethics) in the past year. Bloomberg calls partners in my firm directly, trying to set up "free" trial accounts. Westlaw has been calling other departmental managers (such as paralegal managers) to set up WestNext demos, without ever informing me (despite agreements to do so). Lexis has been showing up to my firm (rep plus an entourage of sales staff), unannounced, asking to have quick on-the-fly meetings with our COO about Lexis MS Office. All vendors have heavy sales pitches and want us to pay enormous amounts of money for "upgrades" and threaten contract increases upon renewal if we don't subscribe now. These heavy handed sales tactics don't appeal and my daily role as guard dog to protect the firm against unnecessary costs is becoming tiresome. We are definitely hiring a consultant to get us a better deal on renewal. Vendors clearly are going after the weakest links in the firm (spend happy partners), in order to sell products. I don't care if I offend vendors to be honest. THey aren't playing nice, lately, and I know I am not alone.

  • It sounds like it hasn't been made clear to the vendors in your firm that there is a single point of contact. If a rep is behaving inapproriately, I'm not shy about going over their head and having them removed. In order to do business with us, playing nice is of prime importance. As I said, the relationship is key. The vendor needs to make the same choice we do: is the relationship going to be collaborative or adversarial.

  • Anonymous

    It has been made clear. But as for vendors respecting me as point of contact, that has not been the case in the past year. Sales forces at Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg and other online vendors have been told to be aggressive, and that means going beyond librarians. I know that other librarians have had similar issues with their local reps and regional reps. Getting a rep removed is not as easy as you might imagine. I agree that vendors should collaborate and work with librarians, but lately, much trust has been lost with their aggressive sales tactics.

  • Sully

    To me the word "partnership" implies shared risk. If a vendor is truly a "partner" then they have as much to lose as I (or my firm). In other words none of my vendors are "partners". I do however strike up collaborative arrangements with some vendors that includes giving them special preference in some cases and in return they have done the same for us. But when it comes decision time I do what is in the best interests of my employer, and I know my vendor reps are doing the same for their employers.