Most enterprises have what they describe as a cordial relationship with their network vendors, but roughly a third say their relationship is guarded, and more than a few say it\u2019s suspicious. That\u2019s a pretty broad range of views, but every enterprise I\u2019ve chatted with says there are things they don\u2019t want their vendors to do, and don\u2019t like it if the vendors do them. Most also say they take steps to prevent these things, and the steps they recommend are really interesting.\nVendors shouldn\u2019t finger-point\nThe top don\u2019t-do for vendors by far is finger-pointing, meaning trying to deflect responsibility for an issue by blaming someone else. I remember well a meeting where the CIO of a healthcare company sprained his shoulder when he threw a ten-pound, bound listing of problem proofs at a network vendor VP who didn\u2019t want to admit responsibility. (He him square in the chest, by the way.)\u00a0 This is surely an extreme reaction, but every single enterprise in the over-200 I\u2019ve talked to about this in the last year said that their network vendors had evaded a problem or obstructed problem determination at least once.\nEvery one also said that when it happens, it lengthens network outages, widens their scope, and makes problem isolation and resolution more difficult.\u00a0 Enterprises also say that vendors often finger-point even when there\u2019s no other network vendor involved, instead blaming the enterprise network operations staff or perhaps some past sales or technical support person now conveniently not working for the vendor any longer.\nGet well-crafted SLAs\nThere\u2019s good news here, though.\u00a0 Enterprises have two strategies to address finger-pointing: carefully authored service-level agreements (SLA) and strategic monitoring. They say that once a vendor starts blaming someone else for a problem, it\u2019s almost impossible to get things back on track, so their goal is to ensure the first finger is never pointed. To do that, they nail down what\u2019s expected, monitor compliance, and mandate escalation.\nMost enterprises use SLAs to guarantee services like VPNs and cloud computing, but equipment deals are a mixture of services and products, and so a contract is usually the legal basis of the relationship. Enterprises say that this contract has to spell out not only what\u2019s expected from the vendor in terms of performance, but also what\u2019s expected in terms of behavior.\u00a0\nToo many contracts call for a specific response to a problem, but don\u2019t indicate what the response will be. Saying, \u201cVendor will respond to a report of a failure within four hours,\u201d admits the possibility the response will be, \u201cGee, you need to look at your operations process over there.\u201d Instead, say, \u201cVendor will, within four hours, demonstrate the cause of the problem, and should the vendor have any responsibility for the problem, provide a specific time at which a remedy will be provided.\u201d\nIn addition, management notification and escalation should be specified. It\u2019s best to require any problem that impacts network users be immediately escalated from vendor technical support to both sales and sales management, and after a given period (usually at the end of the specific remedy period) be escalated up the organizational chain in both service and sales. Get the people who earn commissions on the deal involved quickly!\nMonitoring to isolate a problem and establish responsibility is also critical.\u00a0 Be sure network management systems log any event that can impact services or that\u2019s covered by the contract\/SLA. If necessary add monitoring at boundary points (where vendors change, technologies change, or management responsibilities change) and have the conditions that would indicate a violation of the contract specified in terms of the alerts or log conditions that will be considered to have validated it and assigned responsibility for it.\nVendors should forewarn customers about new products\nThe second vendor don\u2019t-do is failure to regularly meet with the buyer to discuss ongoing problems or inform them of new products or technology options. Large network buyers want weekly meetings, period. Many will accept the possibility that an email exchange or call might be used to defer a regular meeting if there\u2019s nothing to discuss, but most enterprises say that no more than one meeting in a row should be deferred. The meetings should cover any outstanding issues with the vendor, any changes in vendor support of those issues (including scheduled fixes), and any new product\/technology announcements that can be expected.\nThis last point is increasingly important to enterprises. Five years ago, only 13% of enterprises said they didn\u2019t get a heads-up on a pending major announcement and lost planning time and wasted resources as a result. In 2022, that number had increased to 47%, and companies said that they often had no warning of changes that impacted their product plans. That\u2019s a particular problem between roughly October and February when technology planning and budgeting is underway. Regular meetings, according to enterprises, with \u201cwhat\u2019s coming down the pike\u201d as a specific agenda item, helps considerably.\nVendors should warn of changing support staff\nThe third item on the don\u2019t-do lists for vendors is don\u2019t change sales or support personnel without providing notice to the enterprise and without offering transition plan. Companies almost always work out a relationship with the vendor personnel who sell and support their network products, and personnel changes can create a major headache. What enterprises want is a transition plan, a period during which the replacement and the original worker appear together and participate in any activities. Enterprises realize that sometimes both notice and opportunity for paralleling original and replacement workers will be limited, and in those cases they want some higher level support during the transition period. This should be spelled out in the contract, too. Finally, there should be some guarantee of special transition assistance should a personnel change occur during a period of critical network operation, such as year-end or the introduction of a technology or product change.\nVendors shouldn\u2019t promise the undeliverable\nThe final item on the list is "don\u2019t jive me in your sales pitches". All enterprises (rightfully) believe that vendor salespeople tend to push the boundaries of accuracy in their presentations. Usually these are harmless to buyers who are skeptical about claims to start with, but sometimes they\u2019re material to a sales decision and even to successful network operation. One buyer in eight said that they had at least one incident where a vendor promise during a sales pitch wasn\u2019t kept, and it created a condition that required a specific remedy. The solution enterprises offered was simple: Tell vendors in advance of the sales pitch that when they give it, any promise or claim they make will be accepted by them as a contract term subject to all the protections mentioned above. If they\u2019re not ready to make this commitment, they can\u2019t make the presentation.\nDespite the fact that enterprises have such a long don\u2019t-do list, they\u2019re not always at odds with their vendors.\u00a0 In fact, most of them say that their relationship is good, in no small part because they\u2019ve taken the kind of steps I\u2019ve described to keep everything in line. Do the same, and you may save yourself a sprained shoulder.