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Thursday, July 16, 2009

annoying vendor behavior

From a colleague of mine:

I've noticed that many of our vendors have an old-fashioned way of doing business: They seem to think that calling or coming by (in response to an e-mail) is the way to show me that they value me as a client, when I would like to see that they respect my time enough to efficiently provide me with the information that I've requested via the same medium by which I requested it.

For example, if I e-mail one of our reps about pricing for a new module, she replies by calling me back (which I don't answer) and asking me to call her back for the information. (I've taken to emailing her back and asking her again for the information.) Plus, when I talk to her on the phone, she always wants to upsell me.

I can't be the only person who finds this behavior strange and annoying.

She's not alone. I totally agree with this.

Like her, I rely heavily on email because it makes my job a lot more efficient. I can send and read information at a time when it's convenient for me, and so can the person I'm emailing. It means I get info in a more streamlined fashion, without small talk. It eliminates phone tag. Good god, I love it.

I assume some vendors often prefer to return email queries by phone because they think it will help them to build the relationship more than email will. But in the process, they're actually damaging the relationship with people like me and my coworker, who become progressively more irritated by their refusal to use the medium we're clearly trying to operate in.

Have you been guilty of this behavior yourself? Tell us your side.


BoonDoggie said...

I've been on both sides of the desk, so I understand how much of a hassle it can be to deal with a vendor. But from the vendor's standpoint, a customer that only wants the "facts" and doesn't want to build a relationship is probably shopping multiple vendors and is not really worth having a relationship with. You want them to give you information but you're not giving anything back in the relationship, such as being willing to listen to their advice on the upsell. What if the only thing they wanted to hear from you was when you were going to purchase?

Anonymous said...

I can see how the calls from the vendor could be annoying if you initiated communication via email. On the other hand, I can sympathize with the vendor. Remember that they probably need to sell a certain amount in order to stay employed, so they're going to try and use competitive sales tactics. They probably think that the phone call or stopping by leaves a lasting and personal impression without thinking that lasting impression might be negative.

Two vendors live on my street, and I can sympathize with the pressure they can be under, especially when so many people out there are not buying. This is great information for vendors to know, so they can tone it down. I think people get caught up in having to move so much product that they fail to realize that a vendor who willingly answers email queries for information via email without the upsell is also building a good name for himself/herself.

I don't have this type of problem, but I've been told by some people that they don't feel email is personal or leaves a lasting impression. That is an area where I disagree. I love email because I can not only read it as time permits, I can go back to it, store it in a file with other correspondence regarding that particular person or product, and keep track of that person's/company's response and reputation with dealing with me. For me, email is a very effective way to communicate, especially when dealing with specifications, dates, and such things. Believe me, I do go back and look at emails.

Anonymous said...

First of all hello from Australia!

I work in HR and have the responsibility for all internal recruitment nationally. I find if I go to engage a recruiter from an agency, they want to spend hours on the phone and want to meet for coffee and a drink to discuss.

I don't want to meet for coffee, I want the information I requested about fees and prices.

I find this to be common with sales people, they think that if they meet with you or get you on the phone they will secure the sale. Not true, if anything it makes it more taxing to be dealing with them if they constantly want to talk rather than providing you the information requested.

Anonymous said...

As a professional buyer, it's cute to hear someone say that all the vendor wants to do is create a relationship.


What they want to do is figure out how to upsell - or sell more of a particular product.

When I call a vendor with a specific request, I want an answer, not a pitch. A few select vendors who have moved from vendor to vendor/adviser MIGHT be able to get away with pitching, too. But even they know that they get to the adviser stage by first giving me what I want... and then offering their advice.

Evil HR Lady said...

If I ask via e-mail, it's rare that I want a response via phone. And one other thing, if I ask a question via e-mail and CC another person, it's because that person needs the answer as well. Please reply to all.

class-factotum said...

I was in sales for a while (pre email). My boss was always trying to get me to be more touchy feely (take them out to lunch! torture for me because I hate small talk), but I was more comfortable outlining the numbers, the advantages and the disadvantages (and how we would handle those) of our product (health insurance).

The HR people seemed to prefer my smooth-talking boss, but the finance people loved me. And when I sold an account, there were almost no problems with the installation because I had laid everything out beforehand and had not promised something I couldn't deliver.

Kimberley said...

As a vendor, I find it more efficient to have a conversation to answer all of my clients' questions. An e-mail can only go so far.

If you only want rates and are not interested in answering a few questions, then I know that my chances of finding you the right fit are slim (I should say that I work for a recruiting firm). I need to know a lot about the role, the environment, the type of personality who will fit the role/environment, the benefits, etc.

Our placement success rate is just over 95% because our clients recognize the value in spending an hour with us to create a profile.

Now, having said that, if you are a client that we have worked with in the past, then I don't need to spend the time to meet you each time. But I still prefer a conversation to an e-mail.

I suppose if I was selling toner or copier supplies then I could easily complete a sale strictly via e-mail. But when in the people business, it's a little more complicated.

Ask a Manager said...

I should have included that these are vendors we already have relationships and ongoing contracts with.

BoonDoggie, what we're "giving back" in the relationship is money. Sometimes lots of it.

Anonymous said...

I think there are many factors about this. First there is probably a *big* culture difference between those who are the senior management who train these sales people. I know that the GM at our company is always talking about how sales people should have logs of their calls made, and have a certain number made each day.

But also, I think what alot of the "so so" salespeople forget is the "know your audience" rule. They think all you need to do is make the call, but so much is how and when you do this. I am a fan of "phone dates." I completely appreciate the opportunity to talk about something (I'm a bit of a gabber too..) but to have my phone just ring while I am trying to accomplish another task is downright annoying.

That being said, I haven't had a yet had salesperson who has balked when I make a point to set clear boundaries about how to work with me. "Hey you know I'd love to know more about your company, but right now the fastest way for me to review what you have to offer is via email/written info." Or.... you just outright tell them you "aren't looking right now." Being nice or subtle doesn't work here.

HR Godess said...

I will always do one face to face at the start of our relationship. In that face to face I am very specific about what I need and how I need it (email, in person, timely, etc). Once we've begun working together, I expect that to be followed or I look for a new vendor. If I have to take a lot of time to walk the person through how to get me what I need, I'm better off doing it myself.

I think vendors should get a face to face meeting in the beginning to be sure they understand your business and the need. Once that is established, they should respect however you prefer to communicate.

BoonDoggie said...

@anon -
>What they want to do is figure out how to upsell - or sell more of a particular product.

Of course, that's their job. And what you want is to price shop? Unless their strategy is to be the lowest cost provider, it's not really worth it to deal with customers like that.

>I was in sales for a while (pre email). My boss was always trying to get me to be more touchy feely

Yes, all that touchy-feely stuff really does work. The clients that don't want that and look at the vendor as fungible are just as willing to buy from someone else when the "facts" change.

Ask a Manager said...

BoonDoggie, I'm talking about vendors who we're already in a contract with. It's not about sales or price shopping; it's about contacting them for information or help related to the ongoing services they provide as part of that contract.

Jen said...

I'm a librarian at an independent school.

I *hate* vendor calls unless they're pre-arranged, because my job is focused on supporting our students and staff. When a vendor calls in the middle of the day, chances are, they're interrupting that.

I much prefer to get the initial information by email - and then, as appropriate, set up a call at a time I'm less busy (or my assistant can be available to handle people's needs) and I can focus on the phone.

Fortunately, most of our vendors work primarily with schools, and get that - but a few don't, and they honestly push me away from their product when I've got other options.

Anonymous said...

I've been forced to screen all my calls because of the upsurge of vendor cold calls this year. They are relentless, and keep calling back on a regular basis. I am not going to call back just to tell them I am not interested in their product and have them hold me hostage on the phone (I've practically had to hang up on a few). With Email on the other hand, it's easy for me to reply I'm not interested, and they don't need to waste their time calling me constantly. I know it's hard out there, but I won't have them wasting my time.

Bohdan said...

I'd say just watch out for expecting people (vendors or otherwise) to read your mind. If you want people to respond by email, say that in your email. If you want them to 'reply-all' then say that too. Sometimes people are CC'd just to CYA and that person doesn't really want or need to see the response.

That said, I would expect some sense on the side of the vendor. They want to talk because nobody, that is nobody, wants to compete on price. They should try to feel out whether that is what is going to happen and act accordingly. All some people care about is price, no matter how lousy the service or expertise.

I wouldn't want to do business with such people, but I also wouldn't want to pester them with phone calls when they're not interested.

class-factotum said...

When I was in sales, I would drop by unannounced to see clients, but only when I was bearing chocolate-covered strawberries. I said hi, dropped off the goodies, and left. I did want a comfortable relationship with my customers because I wanted them to call me when they had a problem instead of going out to bid.

Email would have been a blessing for client problems because they were often very technical, so having a written record would have helped.

Boondoggie, you do have to know what your customers/prospects want. If they have asked for data, give it to them. If they want lunch, well, fine, except usually it was the numbers people making the decision and not the "wine and dine me even though I have no power" people.

In my business, it was pretty easy to tell who was just price shopping and check bidding and to avoid them. The costs (non-financial) of changing health insurance was very high and I worked for one of the most reputable companies in the industry, so I didn't have to worry much about bottom feeders. I was almost never the low bid.

Miss said...

I am not a vendor, but I am in a sales oriented position in which I have to regularly call prospects.

In reply to Anonymous 1:05PM,
I definitely think you should call them to state you are no longer interested and to please not call you again. If you don't want to get stuck on the phone - state it directly and quickly "Name, I received your voicemail regarding XYZ product and we are currently happy with XYZ. If that changes in the future, I have your information and I will reach out to you. As for right now, it isn't up for debate or discussion - but thank you and have a nice day." Click. And if they're hung up on, oh well. I know when a person isn't interested. It annoys me that I have to "go through the motions," and quite honestly I'd be happy they ended the call for me instead of me having to continue to pitch to someone who isn't interested just because I need to hear no multiple times as protocol.

On the calling end, I truly wish that people would tell me they are not interested. I KNOW not getting a call back usually means a negative, but the powers that be don't accept that.

My employer expects a minimum of FIVE attempted contacts to an individual before they are taken off our prospect list. We sales reps actually get bitched out if we remove them without having connected with a live person on the phone first.

Bad practice? I'm not sure. But I have no control over my employer's policies.

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

I had this problem recently. I wanted to look into expanding our background/criminal history reports. So I called and asked for a list of products and rates. I was told that I needed to setup an appointment with the head of the company. It annoyed me. I wasn't shopping around. I just wanted to know what other searches were out there and what they cost.

Anonymous said...

Rachel - I hate HR

your example was actually one of the few times I would think that trying to talk in person actually benefited the sales person and their company.

"I wanted to look into expanding our background/criminal history reports. So I called and asked for a list of products and rates ... I wasn't shopping around. I just wanted to know what other searches were out there and what they cost"

Why should your competitors help you set your price point?

Yes, they didn't know you were trying to figure out how much to charge for a similar service, but in this competitive environment, your post may point towards another reason vendors want to talk to potential customers in person -

many companies are trying to expand to stay solvent. Vendors need to know that they are dealing with a potential customer and not someone looking to find out how much their prices are so they can undersell the vendor.

Not that this excuses constant calls in the case of a vendor who already has an existing relationship with the client.

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous, I think that Rachel, who works in HR, was saying that she was thinking about expanding the types of searches she BUYS. And she was curious about what her options were and what they would cost her.

Anonymous said...

I've been on both sides of the desk--selling, and now on the recieving end. Now that I TAKE salespersons' calls, I find it so much easier and effective to actually answer the phone, tell them we're not using outside vendors, and giving them a time to call back (six months, twelve months). No one wants to waste anyone's time, and the quick minute it takes to tell them, in person, that I'm not interested saves me minutes and hours down the road. Try it! Sales folks are nice, and they don't want to waste anyone's time. Just be firm, and brief.

Anonymous said...

AAM, I am with you here.

I used to work across different vendors - usually recruiters - at multiple timezones. I try to have a face to face chat in the beginning or to have a phone conversation, where I tell them about our company, our culture, what are the general characteristics of people we are looking for etc.

Then when I have a need, I email my - or rather, my big team's - requirements to them. The requirements are passed to me via email. I go through them, and get more input from the hiring managers. Then I email the exhaustively written requirements to the vendors - Yes, we use multiple vendors.

I would much prefer a faster email reply than a phone conversation. This is not my only responsibility, and often I wont be able to take the call at work, but may have to call them back at my after work hours due to timezone difference. I dont appreciate it.

It is easier for me to track the status on different requirements via email than to write down phone calls. It is easier for me to send you excel sheets and discuss them via email. Especially if I am dealing with multiple vendors, I can copy-paste conversation from one vendor to another and then tweak it a bit to suit the particular vendor.

None of the vendors who call me up have to ask me anything new - they wanted to know the things that I have already explained in the email. Of then the conversation would be of me asking them to refer the email and reply.

Oh, and the best way to keep a client happy is to provide them with decent results ( I wont say best - it is unreasonable to expect perfection ) within the deadline, and tailoring the communication the way the client prefers it.

We pay you a lot of money, remember?