Burgers, BBQ, and Thoughts on Vendor Relationships

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Allow me to wax poetic. In the heart of Medford, Massachusetts, sits what is scientifically proven to be the world’s greatest burger joint. “Science,” obviously, is defined as the establishment that’s consumed the most of my dollars, and “I” being the most of its menu.

On a recent visit I was stunned when, upon being asked if the chefs could prepare a concoction of ham, pineapple, bacon, and other deliciousness without a minor ingredient, the waitress said, simply, “No.”

We don’t really want to change the menu. We always work on the flavors and the chefs can change things when they find a better combination, but these are all because they think it’s best.

Persuaded, and prompted by my (wonderfully patient) girlfriend’s elbow to stop being that guy, I agreed to try it as written on the menu. And for those who know me – yes, the barbecue sauce was delicious. (I’ve historically hated BBQ sauce.)

Naturally, all of this got me thinking about sales, relationships, property operations software, and my day job doing the first, building the second, and obsessing over the third.

The dilemma of too many cooks

In the commercial real estate industry there’s an ongoing shift in what one might call casual expertise, specifically as it relates to innovative tools like property operations software.

Why do I call it casual? Well, CRE, tech, and CRE tech are all scalding, newsworthy markets. There’s a lot of information, much of it bad (but packaged well!), and through the consumption of it people form understanding and opinions. Think of it this way – I had decided I didn’t like barbecue sauce based on a single bad experience in a friend’s kitchen (yes, I’m an idiot), and now I love it.

Better example – Understanding that I’m both fairly new and fairly tangential to the industry, I’d never pretend that I’m qualified to advise on, say, targeted cap rates for a 5 year close ended fund. I’ve read extensively on the subject, and I’m privileged to have spoken with a wide range of organizations within the industry – but none of this changes the fact that I’m wildly over my head when talking about investment strategy and the like.

But what I and my colleagues (mostly them), do know is our specific vertical, that of the new CRE Tech tools designed to help people run their buildings better.

What I’d suggest, to make a long story even longer, is that anyone starting an evaluation process involving vendors of any kind take a further look at the people who sometimes say “no. There are going to be occasions when this is a sign of inflexibility, lack of critical thinking, or that they sent a junior salesperson to the wrong meeting. And sometimes it means that you’re going to blow people’s minds.

Shifting from coaching into collaboration

For some, it has more to do with confidence and integrity. Here at Building Engines, we deployed over 500 separate transactions in 2015, and are on pace to do much more than that this year. When we sell, we leverage the knowledge gained through that base of experience into a partnership – which sometimes means providing guidance in the face of strongly held opinions.

By serving a client base of over a billion square feet, I can say that we have a solid understanding of how to serve our clients – with the addition that we’ll never, ever do something we understand to not be in their best interests. Sometimes during a sale that means saying no, doing the hard thing, or even walking away. I’d like to think that most of our competitors do the same – and if so, I congratulate them.

So what does this all mean,” you ask. I’m saying that a challenge doesn’t have to be negative. Trust in experience and expertise, and let it lead to great (and sometimes delicious!) results.