From the Editor: Hide in Plain Sight
Keep your friends close ... and your vendors closer.
Over the past week I had two conversations about outsourcing, one with a vendor and the other with a manager. One theme that popped up in both chats was how important it is for in-plant managers to have a good relationship with the vendors who call on them — even the vendors whose companies have outsourcing divisions. You can get a lot of great ideas from vendors, they both said.
That seems to run counter to the sentiments expressed by other managers who are vocal with their advice to slam the door on vendors that have “document management” arms. “Don’t give them a foot in the door,” they say. “Be suspicious of their offers to help. And don’t give them any information!”
Here’s why you should not take this advice: if a vendor tries to connect with your in-plant, and you ignore the rep’s calls, he or she will try again somewhere else in your organization — perhaps with your boss. Or his boss. And that’s a situation you don’t want to enable.
By taking their calls and visiting with them, you will become that vendor’s contact at your organization. You will be in the loop. You’ll be the one to evaluate their intentions, not a VP who barely knows your shop exists. Most in-plants that are unexpectedly outsourced wind up in that situation because they were caught off guard. They had no idea the vendor was calling on their upper management. And suddenly, it’s mandatory vendor “evaluation” time.
Some of the greatest success stories I’ve heard have resulted when a confident, data-laden in-plant manager has welcomed a naïve facilities management rep into his shop to hear his pitch, and then decimated him with actual data and questions he couldn’t answer. Mike George, director of Villanova University’s in-plant, dealt with one outsourcing vendor in this way — as we reported in our January issue — barraging him with detailed questions that he lacked the expertise to answer.
I recently caught wind of the situation at the University of Colorado Boulder, where the in-plant was pushed by management to be “reviewed” by outside vendors. Manager Al Goranson has been very proactive with tracking his costs, benchmarking and sending reports to management. So he confidently let two vendors “review” his in-plant. Both were unable to find weaknesses to exploit, and he feels the experience strengthened his position.
“It made all the stuff I say to my boss ... suddenly have more credibility, Goranson reports. “I would suggest to you that those of you in a strong position with an understanding of your value ask an outside vendor to analyze your shop. It can be enlightening. It can also be refreshing to see them fade after you tell them your position. The magic to outsourcing from the vendor side is that they usually get to set the rules; the parameters on which they measure you. These measures are always to your disadvantage.”
So take charge. Set the rules yourself. Give those vendors a meeting during which you make them understand the value you provide, the savings you bring (that they can’t touch), and the abundance of details you know about your organization that they don’t. Then make sure your boss knows exactly how the meeting went.
Related story: Open Your Door to Vendors...Defiantly
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.