— By Danny Koontz —
Advantages of having worked on both sides of the same coin: on the facilities management side and the vendor side.
Ever wondered when ordering something, buying something or taking a sales call, why did the person on the other side choose that particular job? Maybe they didn’t choose it; maybe circumstances did — or maybe they enjoy that job as their passion.
After almost 4 decades in the restaurant facilities management side of the business, I now find myself on the vendor side, trying to help those on the facilities side — many of whom had been my industry peers.
So what are the differences? What works to my advantage now, and what hurdles have I faced? How difficult is the challenge, what roadblocks do I need to get past and what lessons have I learned?
Let’s start with the facilities side of the business where the majority of my career was spent. As a director over facilities in restaurants I am the customer. The vendor community is the service end or service partner doing work at my or my team’s direction. Vendors who are performing work are looking to increase their market share of my business, and vendors who are not currently working with me or my company are wanting to make an introduction and get the opportunity to perform work for my company. Always remember, most people want to do business with your company; you are the conduit for that to happen. Over time, if your reputation is strong, people will want to work with you, as well, but the company is the goal.
When you’re in this position, it’s easy to fall back on the excuse of being too busy to return calls or listen to new vendor sales presentations. But you never know: the one call you didn’t take might have turned out to be a home run. Even if you don’t have an opportunity or a need, take a few minutes to speak with the vendor and let them know. You never know where your career will take you, and someday you may need that particular vendor and they will remember how they were treated.
As a facilities manager, you hold the cards: making decisions, managing to a budget and getting work done that proves beneficial for your customer who is the restaurant operations team. The vendors you choose to work with you support that mission. Naturally, other vendors want the opportunity to be part of that mission, and their job is to reach out to make a connection with you to gain that chance.
As a facilities manager, I tried in every conversation with a perspective vendor to stay true to three rules:
- Be truthful: If no business is available, tell them that; then let them know when they should reach out again.
- Be clear in the message: Let them know what the reasons are for not needing their service at the time, price, lack of work opportunity, satisfied with current vendors, whatever the reasons — and let them know next steps to take.
- Do not appease the vendor: ‘Appease’ meaning instead of saying no, you give them one opportunity which sounds great but if there is no growth possibility behind that, then you are doing them a disservice. They will report back to their leadership they have secured an opportunity, when in reality they just got a bone.
A vendor wants to be a partner with the facilities manager, to work together to solve issues. Ask your vendor partners what they think; they are in your buildings every day, they see things and would love the chance to share ideas and thoughts with you and your team. By the same token, if a vendor is not performing before you part ways, work with them, explain the issues and develop a plan to fix. If after that you are still having issues, then you can make a decision on next steps but do not develop habit of getting rid of a vendor the first time there is an issue. Be a good partner as well.
We have spoken of the facilities side and how that relationship works with the vendors, so now let’s flip the script and discuss what happens when the move is made to the other side of the equation.
I have to say, with most of my career spent in facilities, I never thought I would be working on the vendor side of the business supporting the very same facilities managers who had been my peers for over three decades. But COVID-19 happened. Many others beside myself went on extended leave, and many ultimately lost their job. At a point in life where moving was not an option, my facilities management days were numbered and I was offered an opportunity to work on the vendor side of the business doing relationship management. I loved the story of the company and saw a way to contribute to their growth while learning a different side of the business.
What is different, you ask? Well, I went from directing and managing every day to suggesting and asking. Quite a change there. I now was reaching out to potential customers to see if I could get in the same doors that were once my doors. I learned quickly that since I moved from one side to the other, some people weren’t so quick to respond — if even at all — sometimes. The word “no” as I mentioned before is okay, but some people are just not comfortable using it.
I tried to stay away from any conversation talking points along the lines of, “My company is better,” or “We are cheaper,” as those are two things I never wanted to hear from a vendor during a sales presentation because, in my opinion, those are hard to quantify.
Instead, I tried to pivot to my background in facilities. The hope was, having once been in same shoes as the facilities manager who might do business with my company, I could hopefully prevent some of the issues they would face — since I know that side of the fence, too, and what drives them crazy. I also found it was helpful with my current company to offer insights on what the facilities manager may be facing internally or what drives their decision-making so that we could be a better partner. I also found that I could help in training with technicians or office staff on ways to speak to the customer or improve our value as a company.
What I have learned in the 18 months of being on the vendor side is that while things are quite different, they are still the same. Use your knowledge gained at all points along your career path to seek and add value.
Whichever side of the business you are on, the same rules apply:
- Listen again. (Seek not to respond, but to understand.)
Whether you are a facilities manager or a vendor serving the facilities team, take care of your customer, appreciate what they are trying to do and be a good partner for them to help their business while working to grow your business as well. It is indeed two sides of the coin — but at the end of the day, it is still one coin.
— Danny Koontz is the director of relationship management for Windy City Equipment (WCE), based in Phoenix, with additional locations in Tucson, Albuquerque and Houston. Windy City Equipment provides service and repair for HVAC, hot and cold side equipment, ice machines and beverage equipment. Email [email protected].