How to tame a Polar Bear?

A survival guide for vendor reps – How to encounter a Polar Bear and live to talk about it.


So how about taming a Polar Bear? Well, you can’t. Polar Bear is one of the most extreme apex predators on the planet and will bite your head off if you try…

While I might seem “Polar Bearish” at times and you might feel that I am trying to bite your head off, I am just doing my job and fighting for my customers (or in “bearish” terms: looking after my cubs). So let me give some insights how to tame me.

For the most part of my customer facing IT career, I’ve been “a-man-in-the-middle”, either working at resellers or distributors, representing various vendors and trying to help my customers with their IT related issues. As such I’ve had pleasure to work with representatives of various vendors, mostly sales reps and pre-sales. Most of them are just fine, some stellar, but then there are select few that “poke” me the wrong way.

Even though the relationship between the company I work(ed) for and the vendor in question is usually described with some fancy word such as “partnership”, in essence it is a relationship between a customer and a vendor. Vendor will provide goods and services against monetary compensation provided by customer. It shouldn’t matter that there is an end-customer behind my back. Treat me like a respected customer and all will be fine.

Usually Sales reps have better grasp of this situation, they understand that, if I am served in timely manner and with respect there is a greater likelihood to get the deal and make some money.

Unfortunately this concept is lost sometimes, more often so with more technically oriented reps, such as pre-sales engineers. For some reason they think that since I am not the end-customer, my requests can be ignored. They don’t realize that at the end-of-request-chain, there is usually end-customer waiting for an answer and possibly willing to spend some money on your products or services. No response = No Deal = No Money for Me = No money for You.

While I might tolerate quite a lot of “poking” from my customers (or in bearish terms:from my off-spring), I might get grumpy if you are at the receiving end of money flow and “poke”me constantly.

So here is tick-box-list of my expectations for the vendor reps. Most of them, if not all, require absolutely zero skills, just better or different attitude.

  • Follow up, answer requests in timely manner

    • I don’t expect you to know all the answers immediately
    • If it takes time, let me know the estimated schedule for the answer
    • Follow up within the schedule, come back with an answer or reschedule, don’t wait for me to ask again
    • If I don’t get answer and I have to ask again and remind you, you are wasting my time and bandwidth
    • Most likely there is someone in your organization who can answer the request. By stalling you also make them and your organization look bad
    • If stalling or “dropping the ball” is frequent, you are actually hindrance rather than help and as such I don’t have much use for your “services”.
      • With next request I am more prone to by-pass you
      • Your boss might wonder why this is happening
  • “No” is perfectly acceptable answer once and while

    • But not combined with stalling
    • Proving negative is sometimes difficult, but if the answer is “No”:
      • Do try to show that you made some effort in finding the answer.
      • The longer it takes to reply  the request, the more effort I am expecting from you, especially with negative answers.
    • “No” can also be valuable answer to you
      • Next time I will have an option to choose between vendors, guess who wins?
      • The one who didn’t respond at all
      • or
      • The one who responded promptly and said “Sorry, I cannot help you at this time”
    • “No” is million-billion times better answer than “no answer”
  • Don’t show up late

    • Especially meetings with end-customers
    • Showing up late is disrespecting to other participants
  • Don’t leave early

    • If the meeting is scheduled for two hours, don’t be the first one to leave after one hour, because:
      • Your tee time is in 30 minutes
      • You have to pick-up your kids from school
      • Your dog ate your home work and you don’t have anything meaningful to say (see next point about preparation)
    • Everybody else has committed their time, by leaving early you are not showing respect to their commitment
    • You are not the only one with something important to do, yet somehow others manage to act professionally and manage their time
  • Come prepared

    • As a vendor rep, usually you are expected to know “more”
    • If you just show up and start reading generic corporate Powerpoint, you have offered little value
    • Try to find something about the customer, maybe visit their web page and personalize your message even little to meet their needs
  • Don’t try steal the podium

    • When somebody else is presenting, don’t hi-jack the presentation every time the presenter is taking a breath between the slides
    • This is more problem with Sales Guys, some of them are just not built to sit down, shut up and listen
    • This is especially important if this is the first time hosting a meeting together:
      • You don’t have much idea what the other guy is going to say and in which order. By jumping in constantly you will derail his presentation
      • It is very hard to manage time when constantly interrupted
    • Sometimes asking “loaded” or “prearranged” questions is good way to get the audience to open up and participate, but only when used in moderation.
    • There is a fine line between appearing as “Wise” and “Wise-ass”
  • Act according to your status

    • The higher up on the totem pole / food chain you are, the higher are my expectations towards you
    • if you are a specialist, I expect you to be able answer to request related to you specialization
    • if you are a manager, I expect you to be able to manage stuff on your own and/or manage people working for you
    • if you are a director, I expect you to be able to direct your troops towards mutually beneficial direction
    • Usually acting much below/above your rank will smell “fishy”
    • if you act like an idiot, well you might get treated like one
  • If you know that something is wrong, don’t do it

    • I appreciate that you might be one order short of hitting your quarterly quota and willing to make what-ever-it-takes, BUT:
    • One phrase that I hate with passion is:
      • “I know it is not working, but let’s just deliver and fix any issues later”
    • This phrase has led to so many s**t-storms that I’ve lost count
    • You might get your bonus for this quarter, but you are the only one benefiting and only for short-term
    • Usually it is loose-loose for everyone else involved, additional time and money will be spent on solving the mayhem you managed to create and as a result you are not making any friends and hitting your next quarterly quota suddenly became so much harder.
    • Trust is a very fragile commodity and once broken, it will always be somewhat damaged goods, no matter how much glue is applied.

I do realize that you might have a tick-box list of your own and it might be different from mine. That is fine, I can respect that people are different and you won’t have to tick all my boxes in order to work with me. For example some of my favourite sales guys are just horrible at managing their time, but make up that deficit by shining in other areas.

But if you can’t tick any of my boxes or if I can’t tick any of your boxes, co-operation might not be very fruitful or pleasurable to either party. In that case please consider ticking some of my boxes and I will respond kindly.

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