by Lauren Gibbons Paul

How to Create Trust With Vendors

Jan 15, 20033 mins

Speaking of trust, how do you feel about your technology vendors these days? You’d like to be able to call your vendors partners, but do they live up to the term? Thomas Fisher set out to make his vendors?both incumbent and wannabe?earn his trust.

Fisher, vice president of global information technology for Applica, a Miami Lakes, Fla.-based manufacturer of small appliances, was frustrated with the way vendors resisted his attempts to make them work together. So in December 2001 he hosted a two-day summit for all the technology vendors he was doing business with, as well as any that hoped to sell to him in the near future. Few of them were happy at the prospect.

“Some of them had heartburn about attending with their competitors. They were concerned about possible anticompetitive stuff and revealing corporate information. I had to have a conversation with some of their legal folks. I told them that is not what this is all about,” says Fisher. He allayed their fears (or maybe just wore them down). The summit went forward.

“I put them all in the same room, and I laid out my vision. I told them they all had to work together,” he says. A lot of squirming and grumbling went on, but at the end of the meeting, everyone walked away with a clear understanding of how Fisher does business.

One vendor who did not attend the summit learned that lesson the hard way recently. This person called Fisher and proposed that, although Applica was not going to be spending any money on technology for the rest of 2002, Fisher could install one of the vendor’s products now and not pay for it until early this year.

Everyone’s doing it, the rep said, since it’s an easy way to get new systems in the door under the radar of corporate finance.

Fisher saw red. “As a corporate officer I have to sign a sworn affidavit every quarter that I don’t know about any side deals or hidden revenues or costs. This is just a small example. But it led me to call him back and say, I can’t do business with you,” he says. “Trust has to be a common bond. Once it’s violated, it’s very hard to get it back.”

Fisher advocates that all CIOs should regularly corral their vendors in a single room to get them working together as a team. “The best part was these competitors found they can work together as business partners,” he says. A sign trust had begun to take root: One company representative took the rep from his biggest competitor to lunch after the meeting was over.