“NO vendors, please.”

Every day in my association’s online community, people reach out to fellow members to ask questions or request guidance. Today I saw someone ask for examples of associations that have had proven success with social media. At the bottom of her request for help, she added three words – “NO vendors, please.”

I get why people say that. Too many clueless vendors use discussion forums for their own spammy self-interest. Their boorish behavior provokes others to put fences around their discussions so vendors can’t contribute.

Some association executives want to hear advice only from those who have been in their shoes, either as a CEO or director of membership, education, or another department. But many vendors have been in these same positions – they know what they’re talking about.

Even if vendors don’t have association management experience, they can provide you with the examples or guidance you seek. I thought of a handful of social media consultants who could have given this person exactly the data she needed for her board. Vendors are happy to share their clients’ (and others’) success stories and answer your questions either publicly or privately.

I’ve learned a beautiful thing about many of the vendors in my association community – they’re willing to share their knowledge when someone asks and they won’t ask for anything in return. They won’t hound you with phone calls or add you to a mailing list without your permission. They simply want to help.

Why? They’re smart. They know providing knowledge to others gets their name out there in the community. That’s why they write articles, blog posts, and white papers, and speak at conferences, workshops, and webinars.

Many of them are also blessed with a good heart. They get a kick out of helping others. Why hoard knowledge when you can share it? They’re driven by relationships and are sincerely passionate about their professional community. It’s why you always see them smiling and laughing at conferences despite the grueling hours spent traveling, exhibiting, and speaking while getting up too early and staying up too late.

I know these vendors’ secrets because I work closely with several of them and I’m friends with many others. I see what makes them tick, and it’s not just the prospect of new business. It’s the prospect of helping someone.

So the next time you’re tempted to write “NO vendors, please” in your request for help, please remember, there may be a vendor out there who has exactly the information you need. As a matter of fact, they may be the only one paying attention who has what you need, and they’re willing to provide it without any ulterior motive, but unfortunately you just blew him or her off.  

association vendors
Photo by Max Wolfe (Flickr)

Author: deirdrereid

Deirdre is a freelance writer for companies serving the association market, who after more than 20 years in the association and restaurant industries, is enjoying the good life as a ghostblogger and content marketing writer. Away from her laptop, you can find her walking in the woods, doing yoga, journaling, cooking, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and a glass of something tasty in hand.

32 thoughts on ““NO vendors, please.””

  1. I was just talking to someone about something similar the other day. How people pay to attend a trade show but don’t want to speak with anyone when they walk down the vendor aisles. I get it…some vendors can be kind of “car salesy like” but the looks on their face is almost like they’re forced to be there against their will.

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    1. I know that trade show face — I think I’ve had it! It’s the same one I put on when walking down sketchy streets in strange cities — don’t mess with me! I chalk it up to too many bad experiences with “those” vendors, the ones that spoil it for the rest. They’re so fixated on the sale that they don’t even listen. Maybe I’m spoiled with good clients and friends, but the vendors I know approach their client relationships as partnerships, it has to be a win-win for everyone.

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    2. I think that’s more of a personality thing than a Assn Exec/Vendor thing…. It’s hard on both sides, just starting a conversation with a stranger. It takes a lot of energy. Especially if you’re feeling guarded and especially if there’s jerky sales behavior like you’re at a carnival…

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      1. Very good point, thanks for reminding me about that. I like talking to strangers, but not everyone does. That’s one reason why silly games at booths work, they break the ice. We used Wii bowling at our CBIA booth to have fun with folks. It worked well, except for our achy shoulders and elbows — three days of bowling will do that.

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  2. Love the photo here… And appreciate the vote of confidence for vendors. I think it’s jerky behavior that the person who posts “no vendors, please” is trying to avoid. And there are some jerky people out there from every side of the industry. How about adding to the posts in the community discussions “No jerks, please”?

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  3. Very good points. I field several calls a week from associations that need help that I know are not a good fit for my business, but I am very happy to share some thoughts and advice with no expectation of return. I think that I am able to be of help to them and I usually learn something from the conversation. Tony

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  4. I’m not opposed to help from vendors, but my hesitation comes from multiple experiences with vendors who are not transparent, intentionally filter the information shared with me for their benefit, and otherwise act _shady_.

    I would love to see a Quora-type app in ASAE where I could ask a question, see _anonymous_ replies, and contact individuals based on the quality of their reply.

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    1. Interesting. I see why you’d want responder anonymity in that case, but then no one learns where strengths lie — within execs or vendors.

      This whole situation is tricky and frustrating, and based on my experience, the ones who need educating are never the ones paying attention to posts like this. Or reading community guidelines, or reading articles/posts about good sales techniques…

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  5. Thanks Deirdre. As one of the “good vendors” (my biggest problem is I can’t sell), I appreciate your plea. There are cheesy vendors, people who don’t understand it is all about relationships. But there are also cheesy association executives. I am happy to help but a few (very few) want to pick my brain, gain all the knowledge they think they need and then do it themselves. This is one of the reasons I tend to stay away from RFPs. We are all members of the same industry and community so let’s work together. We can help each other achieve our goals.

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    1. You were one of the “handful of social media consultants” I had in mind, but, of course, you knew that. 😉 Maggie gave her a good answer, she’s a good community citizen like that, bless her heart (and I mean that in the northern for-real way, not in the southern sarcastic way).

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      1. Aw–thanks lady. Was actually coming here to leave a comment. In that specific instance, I think you are absolutely right–vendors/consultants would have been able to better provide the info she was looking for since basically no associations are staffed for/investing in social media at all and barely any have the kinds of quantifiable information she was looking for. Maddie and Lindy or others who have been helping associations achieve real, measurable results and have good info to share would have been a better audience to field her request than association staffers in that specific instance.

        But on the whole, I have to say this is mostly a case of “a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch”or whatever the saying is. As an association staff person you get so many unsolicited pitches that it can take half your day to just politely reply “no thanks”or whatever. ASAE is a unique situation that pits customers with vendors, then half the time promotes vendors and half the time penalizes them–it’s very bizarre to me, and is frustrating for both vendors and staff, I’m sure.

        And as much as the “bad apple” thing can apply to vendors, part of the blame also lies on association staffers who refuse to use the community or avail themselves to colleagues at different associations. Yes, vendors do post more frequently on Collaborate–but a lot of the time their responses are smarter and more helpful than staffers. Is it because they have a vested interest in being helpful and being seen as “thought leaders”? Maybe–but at the same time, as you say, they are giving their time and expertise and asking nothing in return, so can we really fault them?

        Maybe if association staff people weren’t so quick to refuse to participate on Collaborate because they “don’t have time” or miss the old listservs, it wouldn’t seem so vendor-heavy and we wouldn’t see people openly saying stuff like “no vendors.”

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        1. I love that you see this from both sides. You hit on a crucial point – association staff not making time for online conversations/reading. I can see why — I often did my online reading and such on my own time or while eating lunch. It’s funny – association professionals try to get their members to engage and take advantage of resources yet many of them don’t do it themselves!

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  6. Thanks for this post, Deirdre. And, great comments from the group.

    My two cents: After decades of the Mad Men trying to sell us things that we never knew we needed, I would say that it’s going to take a while for the “consumer” in all of us to change how we think of the buyer/seller relationship. There is an element of trust that must exist from both sides if this is going to work, and as we all know, trust isn’t established overnight.

    As a former boss used to say, “I can see better than I can hear.” Back in his day this meant, “show me a signed contract.” Today, that line belongs to the association execs, and it’s up to the companies who are delivering thought-leadership content (everyone participating in this conversation, to be sure) to show them that we really are here to help.

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    1. Good point, Dana. Geez, everything is changing and we know how difficult it is to change and develop new habits and perceptions. Some day we’ll look back at this conversation and think, “Ha, remember when we had those issues, how quaint.”

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  7. Thanks for posting the blog post I’ve written in my head 100 times. When I read a post there are times when I have a resource or reference to share, but don’t because I am a ‘vendor’ in some minds and the post ends with “no vendors.” I remember the first council I served on in the association community (a long-long time ago) used to call vendors “LLS” – low life suppliers. I tell ya… I get no respect…I tell ya…

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  8. I believe it’s a situation where a few bad apples spoil the bunch. In the association space, most vendors that I know are great people with great personalities and are in it to help the community. Yeah, it’s their job too but friendship and helping comes first. On top of that, vendors are often full time specialists in the questions being asked, and hearing their opinions and stories can bring more color to a conversation.

    As a CAE and vendor, I’m pretty familiar with living in both worlds, but if you post a question to a public forum, I think you should expect responses from many different types of parties, fellow executives, people “in the trenches”, and vendors.

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  9. Many staffers don’t realize that many vendors have been staffers and have more experience than many of the “non-vendors” whose responses are sought.

    You obviously hit a nerve on this one, Deirdre.

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    1. Good point. And Isn’t that the truth about posts, David. You never know which post will fade away and which one will hit a nerve. Sorry about the delay in getting your comment up here — it ended up in spam (?!?) instead of being automatically approved. I’m glad I’m picky enough to check spam every few days.

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  10. Very well said. As a former vendor who is now an Association Manager I can draw from both camps. VENDORS ARE A VALUABLE RESOURCE. ACCESS THEM! Most vendors are very willing to be of help (with no expectation of securing business or a monetary return. Their expertise is invaluable!

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    1. Thanks, Judy, for your point of view. Vendors want to be good community citizens just like association executives. We face a lot of challenges in this industry, better to get support where you can and face them together.

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