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Star Wars And It’s Warning To Suppliers

The basic premise of the Star Wars trilogy was the rise of an empire led by a ruthless emperor. Of course, in the movie, good overcame evil and everyone lived happily ever after (less a few entire civilisations destroyed along the way!).

In business, we come across our own little versions of the empire. Individuals who have carved a niche out for themselves and end up being gate keepers to certain individuals or decision makers.

This is all part and parcel of the modern business world, particularly in larger businesses.

It can cause issues internally within the organisation but when a supplier encounters such an individual, it can create all sorts of problems during the engagement.

The individual can, if they are insecure in their role, “big themselves” up to the supplier. They promise all sorts of things and often these promises never materialise. But more frustratingly, they can close off your access as a supplier to other members of the decision making team.

This is usually fine during the normal operation of the contract, but;

  • There might be a problem for which you get blamed elsewhere in the organisation.
  • The contract is due for renewal and you identify that the person you were dealing with is not actually the decision maker.
  • The person you were dealing with might be seen as “difficult” and any associations that person has are considered the same way no matter how well they are doing.

A dangerous position to be in and one that should be avoided at all costs.

Of course, if the gatekeeper is the budget holder and ultimate decision maker, then this is not so much of an issue. But inevitably the people that suppliers deal with on a regular basis are not at this level – they just present themselves in that way.

For this reason, it is imperative that you get to meet as many decision makers as possible during both the tender process and also during normal operations of the contractual engagement.

This will help you;

  • Understand other motivations within the company – everyone’s needs are different!
  • To share information about your company capabilities to more than one person.
  • To protect the integrity of your company by being more aware of the perception of it from other people.
  • Understand possible opportunities in other areas that you may not have seen when dealing with the one person.

So if you are a supplier, look out for the empire builders – you just never know when that empire could collapse!

Photo: Kevin Dooley

Budding entrepeneur working on software product solutions for business. My background is mainly operational and senior management roles in mobile telecoms and software houses. Areas of expertise include professional services, out-sourcing, team management and general operations management. I've made the conscious decision to create my own company having spent the last 20 years learning in the corporate world. In my contributions to this forum, I will share some insights and learnings that I've picked up along the way and hopefully they will be useful to some or all!

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  • Brilliant post Barney! It made me think the entire time about a post by Chris Brogan called “Gatekeepers Vs Gatejumpers” . nI love that word… this is the era of gatejumping. In fact, those for bullet points at the end are gatejumping tips :)nOur business and structure can’t really rely on “one person” (its temper and emotional state). That’s why we are (thankfully) forced to continuously look for better routes. Those that don’t, increase nothing but their risk.

  • Oh Barney this is a great topic and one which nearly every salesperson and business owner will be familiar with. As you point out prevention is always better than cure and there are many things you can do to help avoid this situation. Let me give some additional pointers, social media is great in that with a little work, it allows you to develop a relationship with more many people and points of contact within the organisation. I try to form strong allies and these donu2019t necessarily need to be decision makers. One great tip Iu2019ve picked up is to make contact with and build a relationship with one of the sales team. We speak the same language, they understand better than anyone the issues and problems and are generally very helpful in providing an inside track as to whatu2019s going on and any internal politics that may be relevant. In short, the more research you do and the more people you seek out, the more opportunity you will have to know.

  • Hehehe Barney – Star Wars reigns supreme!nnThe DMU (decision making unit) can encompass a number of personnel for a business. Usually there’s a gatekeeper for that first contact, a financial member and a senior member (this person rules the roost and has the most sway). You can’t always meet the top guy, so you’ll have to impress as many as you can to reach them. Lets hope this person isn’t Mr D Vadar!nnOver-promising is an unethical practice I mentioned in a post last year and a terrible technique, because you should never promise something which you cannot deliver. The company will expect you to make good on your promises. It puts undue pressure on your organisation.nnIf you have one key contact and they leave, you lose your relationship building, so it is advisable to extend your networking within a business for this reason. nnGreat read Barney. And remember; the force will be with you…!

  • Hi Christina – you are quite right. You’ll rarely meet the top guy until the deal is almost done. Getting access to as many players as possible is the only solution to making sure you’re not left out in the cold.nThanks for adding your thoughts (and your obvious knowledge of Star Wars etiquette!)

  • Hi NiallnnSome great pointers – thanks a million for taking the time out to add to the conversation. POint well made on making alliances outside the direct line of decision makers. This indeed can help. nnThanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for sharing that link Fred. That is a good article by Chris and worth a read.

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