Vendor-Proof Your Office Phone

As a chief, your daily routine is that of meetings, conversations with staff, and untold telephone calls. You get your share of them; any chief can tell you stories about the call of the day. However, there are those calls that you will get that you can channel effectively to manage your time and money.

Vendors and Salespersons

First of all, I am not against these folks at all. For the new chiefs, when you are announced in a journal or association newsletter as the new kid on the block, they will pursue you. I understand that they are trying to build a new relationship, but I felt like I was hounded there for a few months.

Some were just down right unethical with their introductions; "a friend from back home," and when you answered the phone, they said they were going to treat you like a friend from back home. Yeah, right!

My radio operators and executive assistant now screen calls for me to determine if they are a vendor or in sales. I learned a chief's trick from my old chief Dave Gellatly in Savannah, GA. This works well and will save you aggravation and maybe money.

All salespersons will be directed to one central person or location. This, in my case, is the support services division (quartermaster or purchasing function). They are the only ones that will deal with a sales representative--period. I do not have to waste my time, and the sales person has one consistent point of contact. Good for both parties. I still approve the purchase. If the company does not wish to abide by this rule and tries to perform an end run on my staff, they have no integrity to me--they are finished. We have others that are ready and willing to serve us in their place. It would be ludicrous for me to discuss the variety of purchases with every vendor that calls; my staff has established relationships with our trusted vendors. Let those familiar with the products (performance, compatibility, and prices) do the research and cost comparisons.

My only caveat is that a vendor treats my department as a "customer." Just because we dealt with you for some time does not mean that you can forget us. There are two types of customers: those who are treated fairly--return customers. The other is the kind that are treated as another number. If this is me, I will be known as a "former customer."

Consultants and Traveling Trainers

I handle these much as I do the vendors; this is how I developed the idea. In my past job as director of training, my former chief had me as the point of contact for all of the consultants and trainers that contacted the department. One person served as the departmental contact, and he set the rules. This is different, but somewhat the same.

Most consultants or trainers like to contact the man or the woman who is going to pay the bills, the chief. They will, of course, flaunt their brilliance, and no fishmonger ever shouts that he has rotten fish. But, as there are professionals in this realm, there are the educated nomads seeking an easy contract. Your trainers should be able to glean background on them and avoid you wasting your limited training budget.

Getting ready to consider an outside vendor for training? Do your background before signing the contract. Inquire of the last few departments that they have worked with on this topic and in your state. Making sure that they can adjust the topic to your state's requirements and that they are experienced in this subject matter is good business sense. If they refuse, don't sign anything--something is wrong.

A chief's time is difficult enough to manage. Interruptions from unsolicited sales and contacts rob you and your position of valuable time. Once your staff knows how to screen and channel inquiries to the correct person, everyone wins. Now chiefs, we have more creative time for the more pressing business of the day.