Forging closer supplier relationships doesn't mean compromising your impartiality

Independent advisors could and should foster relationships with their suppliers in order to benefit clients, writes 3Kites’ Paul Longhurst

Socialising with suppliers can help clients Shutterstock

It is an article of faith for 3Kites that we remain independent of all suppliers in order to provide our clients with the best advice and selection decisions for their specific needs, understanding that one client firm may be very different to another in terms of work types, objectives, culture and the like. 

However, this independence does not mean that we are isolated from suppliers. On the contrary, we like to maintain good working relationships with suppliers where we can and extend these to good social relationships where we simply get on with individuals. But why is this important and how does it benefit our clients?

Firstly, we need to understand the market and how products within it are developing. We can do this in part through the selection processes we run for clients. However, we also use our monthly 3Kites meetings (where our consultants spend a full day discussing projects and products) for demos where suppliers come in to tell us about their latest innovations and roadmap developments. 

This helps us to put the right suppliers and products in front of our clients. It goes further, and this is where the socialising can have an impact. Building strong relationships with suppliers enables us to pick up the phone in support of our clients when issues arise which are not being resolved.

The alternative is to be completely isolated from suppliers. The problem with this approach is that it can lead to an incomplete or inaccurate view of the marketplace. I recently read an article bemoaning the dearth of PMS solutions for mid-market firms as consolidation sweeps up a number of older, on-premise products. 

I wrote a similar piece some time ago when the market for our clients appeared to be shrinking month on month. The problem with such views is that they have a shelf life as the marketplace evolves, and that is exactly what has happened in the mid-tier legal arena.

Building strong relationships with suppliers enables us to pick up the phone in support of our clients when issues arise which are not being resolved.

New products are emerging and existing vendors are adapting as the nature of software development in the age of SaaS shifts towards deeper pockets. Whilst start-ups will (and should be encouraged to) succeed with new ideas, the old approach of selling a good idea for many years with minor tweaks and fixes along the way and major updates only once every two or three years, is fading. 

The costs of continual (and I mean monthly) updates and user interface changes is prohibitive for many smaller suppliers and that is part of the reason why so many longstanding products have been acquired rather than being transitioned to a SaaS platform by existing owners.

So what bearing does our relationships with suppliers have here? At 3Kites, we have always been open to sharing our (non-client specific) views on market sentiment with any suppliers that want to listen. This can help to shape not just product functionality but also pricing models as suppliers move into segments of the market they maybe understand less well. 

We also help suppliers to understand our selection process so that they can put their best foot forward in front of our clients – there is no bias here, just a desire for clients to fully understand the benefits and shortcomings of the products they are evaluating.

None of this impacts our commitment to independence. Rather, it helps us to be better consultants, our clients to get better outcomes and suppliers to develop better targeted products... surely that’s got to be a good thing!

Paul Longhurst is a director of 3Kites. This is the 15th article in the series Navigating Legaltech


About 3Kites and Kemp IT Law
3Kites is an independent consultancy, which is to say that we have no ties or arrangements with any suppliers so that we can provide our clients with unfettered advice. We have been operating since 2006 and our consultants include former law firm partners (one a managing partner), a GC, two law firm IT Directors and an owner of a practice management company. This blend of skills and experience puts us in a unique position when providing advice on IT strategy, fractional IT management, knowledge management, product selections, process review (including the legal process) and more besides. 3Kites often works closely with Kemp IT Law (KITL), a boutique law firm offering its clients advice on IT services and related areas such as GDPR. Where relevant (eg when discussing cloud computing in a future article) this column may include content from the team at KITL to provide readers with a broader perspective including any regulatory considerations.

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