What Do You Mean When You Call A Supplier A “Strategic Partner”?

Duncan Jones

I handle many inquiry calls from clients asking for help negotiating with large suppliers, and often they claim the supplier is a strategic partner. I’ve noticed that many clients use that term, but when I ask them what it actually means in practice, I get varying responses. So Forrester recently surveyed over 150 sourcing and vendor management (SVM) professionals to ask them what they expect to get from strategic partners, and what they offer in return. I was bit disappointed with the results. For instance, while 68% said they would always expect partners to give them the best possible discount, only 6% said they would always make the partner their sole source for specific technology categories.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, to quote Godfather 2, when explaining Hyman Roth’s longevity, Johnnie Ola says, “He always made money for his partners.” That concept doesn’t seem to apply in the technology world. On the one hand, buyers complain about vendors’ unfair policies (see my recent report Buyers Should Reject Unfair Licensing Rules) and transactional sales approach. Yet OTOH they want to squeeze their partners’ margins while still expecting them to sell their wares site-by-site and product-by-product around their enterprise. As one senior software executive told me the other day, “Sure, I’ll waive my usual policies for partners, but only if they let me off the huge cost of supporting individual, small product buying decisions.”

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