You can pay too much or waste precious dollars on ineffective products or services, but one problem I have witnessed too often is companies buying services that are redundant and in some cases in conflict with each other.
In our world, an all too common example of this is hiring many different sales training companies to design training programs, prepare materials, and facilitate programs. Two vendors could both be great at what they do but different in how they prepare and deliver their services which poses challenges and limits efficiencies for clients.
How does this happen? What are the consequences? What can you do you prevent it? I’ll explore those questions here.
1. A “Best-of-Breed” mentality
Some companies set out to hire what they consider “best-of-breed” providers. These providers are either the best known or most reputable providers in their space, which is great. Each one comes with a price tag and, more importantly, each has their own model and way of doing things. This might sound like a reasonable price to pay for getting the best, but it prevents buyers from leveraging and fully utilizing their existing relationships.
Companies with this mentality don’t consider that these best-of-breed providers could be in conflict with each other (some are likely competitors) and will force someone on their staff to streamline and smooth out the wrinkles across providers or even worse, ignore the differences and cause grief and confusion for their employees and reps on the receiving end.
When someone in a leadership or managerial role tries to take inventory and aggregate the various pieces purchased from different providers, they might realize that what they end up with is far from a best-of-breed solution because the pieces don’t connect. Instead, you are faced with:
- Multiple models, lack of consistency, and multiple solutions
- Frustrated learners because the burden falls on them to process the differences
- A lack of leverage ability across programs and providers
2. Too many buyers making uncoordinated purchasing decisions
This is a no-brainer. When multiple people in your organization buy services on their own it increases the possibility of heading down the wrong path. Perhaps a particular office or business unit needs a unique training program then it would make sense to hire locally, But before you do that, check with your existing providers to ensure that this specific training isn’t available and it makes sense to go outside on this occasion.
The more freedom you give your people, the less control you will have and greater the risk of causing problems. This gets right to the argument of whether you allow a federation of fiefdoms or take central control.
Further compounding this dilemma is just how accessible employees with buying power are today as a result of online profiles and directories. Almost everyone is a target and must know how to respond to solicitations.
3. Lack of a centralized training and development mission
In the absence of a specific training and development strategy and direction, people will find a way to do their own thing. Do you have a global, regional, national, or local training and development mission? Can one provider satisfy your needs at all levels?
You need leaders who will hold people accountable. This means people do the things they should and do not do things that will harm, disrupt, or deviate from the norm.
4. Miscommunication, missing true goals and objectives
Playing whisper down the lane can be funny, but not when your company dollars are at stake. When you have multiple internal buyers purchasing services from multiple vendors, each one is likely giving a different message with different priorities, contexts, goals, objectives, and scopes. Those messages are then embedded into the programs and training which the reps learn and pass on to prospects and customers, thus confusing those important audiences.
5. Confuses sales reps and staff being trained
When sales reps come out of the field to be trained, you want to maximize their time as you impart new skills and knowledge, help them retain what you’ve taught them, and encourage them to use it on the job. The more consistent the training they receive – even in terms of the program, design, format, materials, tools, coaching and reinforcement – the more they will be able to focus on the content and not worry about getting comfortable with the content and up to speed with each new training provider they encounter.
6. Wastes time and resources
How many people do you want interviewing, selecting, reviewing contracts, hiring, onboarding, and working with vendors that provide similar or overlapping services? If that’s what they have been hired to do, then fine. But if it’s not their primary role, then they’re being distracted from their job and potentially contributing to this larger problem of ineffective vendor selection and management.
7. Prevents leveraging costs and efficiencies of “bundling” services
Buying more than one service from a vendor usually gets you some form of discount as a reward, which you won’t get if you insist on buying one-off projects and programs. Another benefit of working with an existing provider is that they already “know you” and can likely get up to speed quicker leveraging what they’re already doing for you without reinventing the wheel.
How should organizations think about their learning strategy and their learning partner strategy?
Ultimately business leaders, heads of training and development, and heads of sales need to decide what they value. The goal should be to hire partners that can satisfy needs in an integrated fashion from soup to nuts. That should mean consolidating program providers, connecting the parts, aligning them to the sales process, and communicating that to those who need to know in order to gain and maintain control of the situation.
- Establish and communicate a strategy. Leaders have to take into account how their current programs and providers connect to one another. As you look for a sales training provider, for example, look at the full sales process and consider whether you want to introduce a new model for every phase of the sales process (which then introduces a new methodology or a new approach) or if one vendor can work with you across the spectrum of need. There are benefits to having a level of consistency in the design phase and also in the delivery phase, including context, history, approach, preferences, rapport, shortened lead time/reduced learning curve, comfort, and familiarity.
- Diversify very carefully. Putting all of your eggs into a one provider basket can be dangerous. Similarly, working exclusively with only one provider for too long shields you from other good ideas and methods that are out there. Consider giving a small project to a new vendor as a test, but do so deliberately knowing how it fits with what you’re already doing. Be prepared to act (i.e., change vendors) once you have the results.
- Proven capabilities. Be sure that the vendor has a proven track record for the services you need. Maybe you’re already working with a vendor that tries to convince you they can help you with related or other projects. Don’t be desperate or foolish and brush off your due diligence. Can they really do the work? If not, stand firm and hire another, or structure a deal with your current provider on a trial basis to see if they can do the work before making a longer-term commitment.