Provider Engagement, Relationship Management

The provider / client relationship: Part II – addressing bullying behaviors

In this 2-part series, the IA team explores some of the “bullying” tactics we observe between clients and technology providers, and potential solutions for healthier, long-term relationshipsIn Part I, we defined three bullying behaviors we see clients face from solution providers. Now, in Part II, we will focus on tangible solutions we think can stop the bullying once and for all.  

We realize using the word “bully” to describe a technology provider may seem harsh to some. But what else do you call a business entity that pushes to:   

  • Just get the sale (and misrepresent what the tech can do)
  • Just get clients implemented (with little to no guidance)
  • And just hand them over to service (it’s not that easy)

We’ve included our thoughts on how to change the narrative for good – for both providers and clients – below.

#1 Just Get the Sale – Potential Solutions

For Providers: Providers must hold their sales teams accountable for how they show up to a potential client engagement. This means setting clear expectations and not making false claims about what a system or service can do. Clients don’t expect perfect, but they do expect honesty. The noisiness of the market makes it harder than ever for clients to discern if a technology can truly meet their need, so guiding them through the sales process honestly should be a given.

It also means setting standards for how to address questions from the potential client, and always soliciting feedback to understand how the potential client felt the conversation, demo, or workshop went. There is also an opportunity for providers to rethink their sales incentives. Instead of solely incentivizing net new clients or upselling additional products, what if successful implementations, exceeding service SLAs, or client retention were the barometers of bonus eligibility?

For Clients: To combat an overzealous sales team, it’s important to walk into a selection with a point of view about future business process needs. Too often clients know they want (or need) to enhance their technology but fail to undergo much genuine reflection before scheduling demos or starting discovery with a provider. We strongly believe clients should focus on creating great processes first, then select the technology or service that will enable those processes. Not all providers are keeping up with clients’ demands, so be prepared to challenge them with specific and forensic use cases along with your desired outcomes. This will position you to avoid unplanned costs in resources and the need for additional tech.  It also helps build or refine an ongoing governance policy.

#2 Just Get It Implemented – Potential Solutions

For Providers: There is a real opportunity for providers to set clients up for success by behaving like a true advisory partner. Start by asking clients what their desired outcome is, and then recommend ways to achieve it by leveraging the system. Don’t start with the system capabilities as the baseline to the conversation. A lot of buyers don’t know the intricate details about technology implementations, especially if they’re coming from an on-premise solution. Help organizations look at their foundation data and determine whether they’re efficiently built and able to withstand the workflows in a cloud-based system. Listen to your clients and engage them where they are in their lifecycle of change. Best practice doesn’t always work – get to know your clients so that you can really build that partnership.

For Clients: Clearly define all roles and responsibilities during contract negotiations and establish real expectations from the provider to have a successful implementation. What skill sets, or capacity, will you need to supplement the implementation if your team does not have them in-house? Who will be your project manager? Additionally, ask your new provider about their product roadmap (ideally way before implementation). This will help you understand what new functionality is being developed and whether it will align the system with your ultimate desired future state. Remember: don’t lift and shift your business processes into a new technology and expect improvement. Define your point of view and firmly set your guiding principles first. This will inform how to make decisions throughout the implementation and beyond. Implementations are difficult, but if you hold your provider partner and yourselves accountable for meeting deadlines and remain open to collaboration, then it canbe smoother.

#3 Just Hand Them Over to Service – Potential Solutions

For Providers: Cloud-based implementations have been around for a while now – ensure you have a strong hand-off playbook as you transition a new client to ongoing support, including key contacts, escalation procedures, and SLAs. Schedule regular SLA reviews and proactively address any potential issues. If you are implementing your own system, cross-train the implementation team on service. If you are a provider shifting to a system integrator (SI) or managed services model, stay engaged and manage the client relationship alongside the managed services provider. Don’t assume ‘no news is good news.’ The management of those relationships with a clearly defined governance model and ongoing strategy meetings is key to a successful partnership. It’s also important for providers to go beyond “best practice,” as those are typically subjective or based on your specific system’s limitations.

For Clients: Ask questions! If you’re worried about what the relationship will be like after go-live, ask for a walk-through, or schedule time with the service support team. Review the SLAs to ensure you understand what they mean and prepare your in-house team for the transition to a new contact. And don’t be afraid to hold the provider accountable to agreed-upon terms. This is a relationship and partnership that is going to last for years to come, and the last thing anyone wants is to be bullied.

So what’s the big lesson from all of this? Providers and clients should partner throughout the entire relationship (from sales to service), prioritizing open communication and mutual collaboration. For providers, listening to your clients is key, and service matters. For clients, being prepared and holding providers accountable puts you in the best position for success. Ultimately, bullying tactics don’t work – but fostering long-term partnerships through the easiest and hardest of times does.


  • Kimberly Carroll

    Kimberly Carroll loves change and helping others through her role at IA. Kimberly’s clients look to her as a sounding board, therapist and mentor. She is passionate about change and using her background to influence HR leaders to truly transform their organizations.

  • Corrina Nation

    As a Senior Advisor at IA, Corrina is instrumental to the success of projects by listening deeply to stakeholder needs and crafting transparent plans to achieve objectives. Throughout her career, Corrina usually becomes the “go-to” guru on emerging trends because of her obsessive reading. She threads the voice of the client in all of her work, and fervently believes authenticity is the key to successful plans. Corrina has been featured on several solution provider podcasts and webinars, BenefitsPro, and various local SHRM chapter events.


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