Jinfo BlogWhat do Vendors and Buyers Need from Each Other?

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By Chris Porter

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Abstract

Reporting from FreePint's recent Community of Practice sessions for vendors and buyers, Chris Porter highlights the key themes of common interest from the importance of good usage data to early customer involvement in product development.

Item

FreePint recently hosted several Communities of Practice sessions in London where buyers and vendors of information services met, both separately and together, to talk about what they need from each other.

In FreePint's view, the buyer community has seen real reductions in numbers of information professionals in recent years, with fewer buyers serving more users. In this new world, many buyers are called upon to take a highly strategic view of the information needs of their organisations.

Vendors work on implementations at many different organisations, picking up insights along the way, and can bring real value to buyers by sharing their knowledge and experience.

Below is a selection of the themes of common interest which emerged in the discussions:

  • Buyers appreciate expert help from vendors to explain the value that their content and services can bring: vendors remark that buyers sometimes do not understand the true importance a particular piece of content can have for a particular kind of specialist user; vendors can help to explain that.

  • Everyone recognises the importance of good usage data - though it is not the only thing that counts: information professionals say that vendors who provide the customer with only very high-level statistics, lacking individual detail, are not helping anyone. Vendors comment that organisations which insist on shared user accounts, rather than individual sign-ins, are effectively depriving themselves of meaningful insights into user behaviour.

    Buyers say they know perfectly well that usage statistics are not the only indicator of the value of a service. They also say it helps when the vendor is proactive in spotting potential issues with usage: "It's great when a vendor comes and comments on oddities in the usage data."

  • Reaching a common understanding on communicating with end-users is key: vendors can provide real benefit to hard-pressed information professionals by going directly to end-users to help with, for instance, improving user skills or gathering product feedback.

    Equally, as one vendor said of their customers, "Sometimes they can be quite legitimately protective of their users." For instance, if the organisation has chosen not to subscribe to a particular feature or content set, and needs to avoid confusing the end-user about what is, or could be, available.

  • Early customer involvement in exploring new product ideas is welcome: a vendor saying "Great news! We have added Russia data to our service" is not helping the buyer. Saying "We have added Russia data to a service because other customers requested it for reasons X, Y and Z" is more helpful.

    Involving the customer in a discussion about a product enhancement idea, before the decision to add it, is even better: "We are much more likely to invest in it if we have had some input, at some point, into the process."

  • A strategic level of understanding is essential - on both sides: the vendor needs to grasp the customer's buying process, understand any constraints imposed by the procurement department and know where the customer's overall business is heading.

    The buyer is constantly seeking a better understanding of the thinking behind the vendor strategy and roadmap, in order to build this into their own long-range planning: "It's the 'Why are you doing this?', rather than the 'What are you doing?', that I often have to go back and ask about."

And finally:

  • Don't call training "training"! Both parties have a common interest in getting users to sign up for product training, but both can find it difficult to get users to commit.

    If you say "Come to a quick briefing which will give you three tips on how to be more effective at task X", or "This session will explain the three things that will save your life, as a user, at three in the morning when there is no-one around to help you", you are far more likely to get them to come than if you say "sign up for a product training".

Editor's Note

FreePint has a regular programme of Community of Practice events; visit the FreePint on Eventbrite page to find listings and to register. FreePint Subscription at the Community level (previously Team) gives access to all FreePint Communities of Practice as well as all FreePint Content.

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