The Importance of Cultural Alignment with Vendors

Searching for new software can really suck. I’m not just talking about the comparison conundrum. Weighing up features while wading through the treacle-like sales copy that plagues so many products, to find some semblance of differentiation. 😩

Really, that’s the least of my worries. Because for us, it’s the other things. The subconscious niggles. The things that make us run a mile — often without paying any mind to the software itself — like a word or phrase that just didn’t sit right.

I guess it’s in the marketing, but the marketing of what? It’s not the product. As many of us know, the “best” product rarely wins — lest we forget the battle of Betamax and VHS. 📼

So what is it? Branding? Good advertising? The — 😳 — sales copy?

Well, for us, I think it’s probably culture. Or more specifically, how our culture aligns with our vendor. That’s increasingly the case as our own culture becomes more clearly defined. Now, I’m often finding cultural alignment is outweighing the pull of pioneering features or indeed more wallet-pleasing price tags.

Perhaps that’s just us, though. After all, we’re a weird bunch. A few misfits. We have a pretty unique way of doing things, as has no doubt been illustrated throughout the pages of this blog.

As culture has become more obvious, infiltrating and influencing each and every decision we make, I’ve started wondering whether it should play such a significant part in our purchasing cycle.

The Catalyst of Thought — Because There’s Always One!

The question of whether culture should have as much significance in our decision making came after a surprising encounter with a current vendor didn’t end up how we thought it would.

In this particular case, Jake and Jarratt had met with a vendor for coffee. It wasn’t intended to be formal or businessy. It was just a chat because they all happened to be in the same place at the same time. ☕️

I’m not going to name and shame here. In fact, I’ll do my best to ensure I don’t give anything away about the vendor involved because it’s not my place to judge. What they do and how they operate is their business. It just doesn’t necessarily gel with us. So, in the spirit of respecting privacy — the irony of which will soon become apparent — and anonymity, I’ll refer to the other party as Jo.

Anyway, HelpDocs’ illustrious leaders had met with Jo for coffee, and on first impressions, Jo was just the kind of person they expected from the vendor. Courteous and friendly. Nothing was too much trouble, and they were notably cheerful about getting to meet up.

As the conversation went on, the laptops made their way to the coffee table as talk naturally turned to business. More specifically, talk turned to data. Our data.

Sure enough, as Jo decided to demonstrate a part of their software, Jake and Jarratt became dispirited. Jo wasn’t just demonstrating their product, they were inadvertently flexing over the level of access they had to our data. 📊

We knew we stored data with this vendor. We knew they had access. We have a data protection agreement with them, so that part isn’t in question. But such flexing, in a public space, without so much as asking if it was ok — came as a massive shock.

We are protective of our proprietary data for all the usual reasons. Jo had shown a flagrant disregard for that, and it felt like a personal violation of the trust we’d built. 🔓

The assumption that it was ok to plow into our data was misguided. Had Jo asked to access it, the response would have been a resounding no, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been so jarring. Perhaps it could have been an amicable end to the conversation.

As it was, the audacity to think accessing our data was ok, was enough to highlight we had misjudged the vendor. That there was no question suggests this wasn’t the first time they’d accessed this kind of data, and we suspected it wouldn’t be the last.

Did we Act Harshly, or “The Importance of Cultural Alignment”

Of course, this could have been an isolated incident. It could have been a bad actor. One bad apple spoiling the bunch. But equally, it could not have been. 🍎

While cutting our relationship with the vendor based on the poor judgment of an employee might feel a little harsh, our trust had been broken. And we’re firm in the belief that if you can’t trust a vendor, you need to find a new one.

We had a lengthy team discussion, journeying through the murky shallows of disbelief — did that really just happen? — into the depths of anger and distrust, until we found ourselves in agreement that the only recourse was to find a new vendor.

Trust is part of the core fabric that’s stitched into HelpDocs. As is respecting privacy, having empathy, and doing what’s best for the customer. All of these things were misaligned in this situation.

There was a complete disregard for privacy, there was no empathy, and it wasn’t best for us our customers.

The thing is, we expect that kind of cultural dissonance to be a deal breaker for anyone.

To us, we don’t want vendors who don’t value the same things we do. Trust, privacy, and empathy. After all, how can we uphold our virtues to our customers if they are being undermined by one of our vendors? 🤷


💝 Originally published on HelpDocs Blog.