The Art of ERP Vendor Communication
Assume that your ERP project has been approved, and you have assembled a cross functional team charged with selecting ERP software. Let’s talk about how communications between ERP vendors and your team should work. On your side of the fence, everybody on your team will have a different agenda, and the vendors will hear exactly as many different specs as you have members of on your ERP team. For their part, ERP vendors are child-like in their attempts to get their way. If they cannot get you to agree to a point, they will happily go to another team member and get them to agree, and cite that as a team decision. For these two reasons, it is important to designate- early in the process - an individual who has sole authority to speak on behalf of the team and to make binding commitments. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have normal group interaction and communication; it just means that everybody understands that if the spokesperson didn’t say it, it isn’t official.
Choosing your ERP Team Spokesperson
Who the spokesperson should be is a matter of preference. Obviously it can be you, the ERP project manager, as long as you protect against the risk of forming a personal relationship with a vendor during the sales cycle that influences your judgment. A good alternative is to select a purchasing professional to be the spokesperson. In addition to having experience in dealing with vendors, procurement people are already trained in keeping discussions ethical, transparent, and professional. And, as the selection of ERP software narrows, you have a negotiator already in place who understands the details. The risk with this arrangement, obviously, is that the purchasing professional must be able to absorb the team’s viewpoints, and your direction, and represent them fairly. The role is spokesperson; he or she has no more decision-making authority than you have delegated.
Having a spokesperson between you and the ERP vendor provides some personal benefits besides communication clarity. The ERP software search is a mentally exhausting process, and not being the lead spokesman allows you the luxury of not feeling like you need to remember every word and take notes on every conversation. Vendors will seek you out for a confidential sidebar conversation if they perceive a serious problem, so you maintain a better grasp on what the critical few problems are, rather than the trivial many. And just verbalizing instructions to the spokesperson helps you understand the issues and interactions better; this is complicated stuff, and it’s easy to think you understand it until you try to articulate it.
Regardless of how you choose to arrange your communication process, the important point is to make clear to everyone exactly what weight any bit of spoken or written word has in the total process. If you ever want to witness the Biblical phenomena of people talking in tongues, put a six person ERP software search team in a room with a six person ERP software sales team, and give them all equal authority to negotiate in good faith.
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