A Holistic Approach to Vendor Management

Tobin Conley | 09.17.15
Topics: Association Management - Leadership

Technology initiatives only succeed when everyone involved understands their role and responsibilities. If no one is given ownership of projects or systems, and no one takes responsibility, an internal epidemic of pointing fingers and placing blame results.

Bring Association Vendors to the Table Together

The ‘pointing fingers syndrome’ can happen externally too.

Take, for example, a system implementation. When integration doesn’t go as planned, system X vendor says, “It’s not us; it’s system Y that’s causing the problem.” System Y vendor points to system Z, and around we go again.

If this ‘blame game’ sounds familiar, I’ve got a solution that will ensure it never happens again: bring the relevant players to the table from the start.

Start every technology project with an all-vendors-on-deck planning meeting.

For every technology project involving more than one vendor, hold a planning meeting at the start. Include appropriate staff members and all the vendors related to the project (directly or indirectly). Make participation a selection requirement. Be prepared to pay for the vendors’ time—you’ll save money in the long run because you won’t spend time running back and forth between vendors trying to solve problems.

During the meeting, allow each participant to discuss any anticipated or potential issues. Come to an agreement as to how those issues will be resolved. Assign clear lines of responsibility externally and internally.

The goal of the meeting is to set expectations and reinforce each vendor’s ownership of specific outcomes. Make sure that happens, and document it.

Hold an annual technology summit with your key vendors.

Once a year, as part of the budget cycle and technology planning process, invite vendors representing all mission-critical systems to a technology summit. Although you could host a virtual summit, it’s much better to have this conversation in person so people can look each other in the eye—don’t leave any room for ambiguous communication.

During this annual technology summit, review your association’s strategic goals and discuss how technology helps you accomplish them. Reconfirm each vendor’s responsibilities. Discuss how systems are working together (or not), and how to sustain and optimize those systems.

Put all issues and concerns on the table, but don’t let the summit devolve into a gripe fest. Keep everyone’s focus on the endgame and encourage them to share creative ideas and solutions to help you achieve better results.

Take a ‘mature’ approach to technology.


Dealing with technology systems and vendor relationships can be like a game of Whac-A-Mole. You have a problem with a system, or the problem might be with a connected system—you’re not sure. You keep trying to get answers but you feel like you’re getting the run-around from vendors. Communication gets distorted as it travels back and forth through layers of personnel. You’re getting nowhere. Finally, just as you think one problem is resolved, another one pops up.

Put an end to the Whac-A-Mole approach to technology. Technology projects and systems are discrete, but they don’t reside in a vacuum. They’re part of your larger technology ecosystem and require a more holistic approach, not a vendor-by-vendor approach.

IT maturity, the backbone of the DelCor philosophy, is a holistic approach that focuses on technology in its entirety throughout your organization. A technology summit is one way to start moving your association toward a more mature technology model.

When back-and-forth doesn’t work, consider diplomacy.

While it’s not necessary for consultants to participate in your technology summit, they can facilitate and help to broker conflicts. That’s because consultants (like DelCor) have ‘no dog in the fight’—our interests ultimately lie with the client’s technology success. We can cut through the layers and resolve long-festering issues.

For example, one DelCor client was having problems with their Single Sign-On. They went back and forth between their AMS and CMS vendors trying to resolve the issue. The only outcome was increasing frustration.

We were called in to facilitate a face-to-face meeting. In just 30 minutes, with the right people from the vendors and the association at the table, we helped tosolve a problem that had been challenging the association for the previous year.

It was so simple, in retrospect. Yet it was a powerful lesson about finding success through conversation. Bringing people together like that is an expense—you have to pay for staff and vendor time—but the pay-off is immense. You can solve rapid-boil or simmering issues, open the door to communication, and cement relationships. The finger pointing stops, and the hand shaking starts.


  1. Bring association stakeholders and all vendors together at the start of every new, multi-vendor project to set expectations about roles and responsibilities.
  2. Plan for an annual technology summit for your association to ensure your technology—and your relationships—are optimized.
  3. Resolve system and vendor conflicts by taking a mature, holistic approach to technology management.
  4. When communication between vendors breaks down, consider tapping a qualified facilitator to get back on track quickly.

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Flickr photo by Matt DeTurck

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