Why transparency is the future of vendor–client collaboration

communication

By Christian Monberg, CTO, head of Product, Zeta

When it comes to enterprise software, plenty of organizations simply want set-it-and-forget-it solutions that require zero oversight or investment of resources — and plenty of tech companies are happy to sell those solutions. 

But set-it-and-forget-it is nothing more than a setup for failure. 

Off-the-shelf solutions that don’t require mutual investment don’t work — at least not well enough for companies to compete. Modern enterprises are too complex and markets move too fast, especially in a COVID-19 world. These days, the partnership between vendor and client is as important as the product being sold. 

For businesses to succeed, the pitch must change

When a marketer pitches a prospect or a client, they risk placing that partner in a mindset of suspicion rather than curiosity. That suspicious feeling is only amplified by the current cultural and political climate. But marketers and salespeople are conditioned to pitch. Moreover, they’re conditioned to mask a product’s shortcomings with aspirational roadmaps and cherry-picked data points.

This conditioning needs to be undone — the pitch needs to change. 

People resent obfuscation and hyperbole now more than ever, and they’re starved for trust. That means the shortcomings and vulnerabilities we’ve been conditioned to spin must be acknowledged. In today’s market, unbridled transparency is essential for business success.  

Transparency builds trust and cultivates success

The events of 2020 created an environment where everyone’s voice needs to be heard. With so much at stake, commercial relationships built on communication, candor, empathy and trust are the new essential factor in weathering uncertainty and a high-risk marketplace. 

Clients recognize transparency — just as they recognize how stand-out technology is differentiated — and it’s a key reason they keep working with the vendors that practice it. In spite of slashed budgets and evaporating resources, commercial relationships with transparency at their foundation endure. 

What follows are just a few examples of how this dynamic has been evident in 2020, as highlighted in a recent Q&A I had with a telecom client during our annual Zeta Live summit.

Telecom Client: What’s an example of how honesty and transparency has impacted your client and analyst relationships?

Christian Monberg: Zeta started talking to Forrester about the capabilities we didn’t yet have. We told them what trends we were seeing, how we were prioritizing against them and the real progress we were making towards each goal. That transparency is why we moved from Contender to Leader in their eyes this year.  

TC: How have you changed your approach to product integrations? 

CM: We stopped modeling our integrations after home-improvement shows where the owner moves out of the house and returns six months later for the big reveal. Hiding the messy part led to missed opportunities and compounded problems. Instead, we started using an open, modular approach in which we engage clients in decisions every step of the way and roll out features iteratively. 

TC: How have you made your service-level agreements more transparent?

CM: When prospective clients asked if our SLA included “99.9999 percent uptime,” we said “no.” But we also showed them a live view of our operational dashboard, so they could see every instance of downtime we’d had and how each instance impacted our services. We illustrated why having “six nines” was unnecessary and prohibitively expensive for their business. In other words, we made it clear that going from 99.99% uptime to 99.9999% was not only prohibitively expensive, but completely unnecessary for their business model — the ends gained (just a handful of minutes per quarter) wouldn’t justify the means (dollars, servers, etc.) required to get there. That willingness to take the client backstage was more compelling than any number of decimal places.  

TC: How have you made your roadmaps more transparent and collaborative? 

CM: Roadmaps should be living, working plans, not aspirational marketing tools that sell a dream. In a recent meeting with a prospective client, we laid all our internal documents on the table, showing them our detailed product plans and our resource allocations against the roadmap. They could see exactly what we would have done and when. 

Transparency builds trust and better relationships 

The pandemic has forced many businesses to accelerate their own plans for change. Just like digital transformation, shifting to a more transparent and collaborative way of working together should be another facet of that new normal. 

Maybe it’s the fact that almost every team is now seeing its partners and clients in their own living rooms instead of boardrooms, and wearing T-shirts instead of suits, but there appears to be an awakening that’s inspiring professionals to drop the now outmoded vendor-client pretenses. 

Businesses are on the cusp of understanding each other in a more empathetic, humanistic way — the fact that it will deliver better results is just the icing on the cake.

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