What the buyer wants - Less is more in the relationship-building game

When it comes to building long-term relationships with customers, sometimes the best advice for IT providers is to just chill out.
Ajay Bhatia - Managing Director, Carsales

Ajay Bhatia - Managing Director, Carsales

In March, Carsales chief information officer (CIO), Ajay Bhatia, became the company’s new consumer business managing director — a well-earned promotion for the online automotive sales platform provider’s long-time tech lead.

While Carsales’ CIO slot has since been filled by Carsales’ former chief technology officer (CTO), Jason Blackman, Bhatia’s experience heading up the company’s internal technology team for the better part of the past decade has left him with a few valuable tips for external technology partners.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, when it comes to sparking up and building a good, long-lasting relationship between technology partner and client, less is often more, according to Bhatia.

“For me, less contact, but quality contact, is more important,” Bhatia said. “I prefer a higher quality conversation on either something new that the vendor thinks can help our business, or something existing that we can optimise in some way.

“From time to time, it’s about nothing more than having a coffee, just to make sure that that contact isn’t lost, as long as we don’t overdo that part.”

Part of this approach is for purely practical purposes, with Bhatia making the point that loss of time is what management suffers when IT providers try to get in his ear. “When vendors email me, I hate not getting back to them,” Bhatia said. “But if I try to get back to everybody, I spend all my time doing that, so it’s a really delicate balance.

“The frustration comes from the fact that I have less time to do the work that matters to my organisation, so I don’t like being over-contacted by vendors.”

For Bhatia, most social engagements with potential or existing partners tend to fall into the same category, with fewer casual meetings likely to improve the relationship rather than more.

“I actually don’t like those invites to tennis, and that sort of thing; it’s a real distraction for me,” he said. “It tends to put pressure on me that I need to keep giving [a partner] business, and I want to do it with a free mind.”

However, just because Bhatia doesn’t want to fill up his days with meaningless social engagements, it doesn’t mean he wants partners to remain distant once a relationship has been established.

Carsales runs regular hackathons to which partners are invited to participate. Bhatia and his team have found that these events provide a great opportunity for partners to develop stronger bonds with the company, and provide avenues for collaboration.

“The relationship becomes deeper and deeper, and certain vendors can become really important to you, and you want to make sure you select them carefully,” Bhatia said. “Once you select them they’re not much different from someone working for you from within the company; they’re one and the same thing.”

Trust is another vitally important factor for partners to establishing and building a lasting relationship with the end client.

“If you’re promised one thing but delivered another thing, that’s the worst part,” Bhatia said. “The number one issue is trust.”

For Bhatia, trust is often built with the individuals within external IT providers, rather than the broader organisations themselves, although he concedes that in some cases, companies are able to maintain
high quality standards regardless of personnel changes.

Regardless, Bhatia suggests that suppliers that are able to create long-term trust through good products or solutions are more likely to win long-term relationships than those providers that try to ensure ongoing work through contract lock-in.

“We don’t have contracts with our clients,” he said. “Most of the times when you don’t have a contract you end up being with that organisation for longer.”