Friday, January 13, 2012

Vendor Meetings

It's a long and winding road that explains how the voting system our county purchased in 2002 from Global Election Management Systems makes us an ES&S customer, but that's the case.

Along the way, Global was purchased by Diebold.  When I came to the county in 2005, I was struck with the sophistication level of the election vendors compared to those I was used to during my 20-year career at Sprint.  I was used to Lucent and Nortel, and Diebold at the time was more like a couple of consultants working from their homes.

For a couple of years at Sprint, I managed something we called our Executive Forum, a collection of Chief Executive Officers from our largest wholesale customers.  The average billing on these accounts was more than $2 million/month. 

We'd pull them in a couple of times a year, play golf, tell them the latest things we had going on, listen to them, listen to them some more, and usually play golf again.  It was Relationship Marketing 101, and it was a very effective marketing tool.  Our customers, while competitors, learned from each other as well.

I asked Diebold, when I came, why they didn't do something like that (not to be "wooed," and to the contrary "something like that," to me, really meant having some regular meetings with their largest customers).  I was looking for the meeting without the golf (we're government, after all).  After a couple of years, Diebold created such a group and called it the Customer Advisory Forum.  Given that I was the pest to create such a thing, I became a member of this Forum.  It was a great way to make sure our operational issues got visibility to Diebold's senior executives.

Concurrently, Diebold competitor ES&S was doing the same thing.  When ES&S acquired Diebold's election business in 2009, ES&S merged these two customer advisory groups.

I'm coming back from one of these meetings right now.  My posting earlier on envelope pricing was timely because I think we're going to be able to identify a cost-cutting solution there.  As with what seems like every post so far, more on that later (it's going to be a long year).

ES&S's senior management team looks and acts a lot like the vendors I saw at Sprint.  The industry is more sophisticated now, but a lot of that is just the level of people ES&S has hired.  More on that later, too.