A company becomes a vendor when they have clients. Or when they provide services to a specific subset or field. It is when they believe they have a solution no one else posesses, yet somehow they can exist within a crowded trade show with many fellow vendors showing off similar wares.
I have purchased things from vendors, conversed with vendors, and demanded things of vendors. And yet, through the entire process, they stayed vendors. They didn’t become companies or individuals, they were just the vendors who were providing us the service, whether that was online curriculum, a content management system or simply a few books.
Being a vendor is easy for some and much harder for others. Losing your personhood and becoming simply an arm of the entity you work for can be debilitating. It can make you not feel as though you can be part of any conversation. It can also make others feel as though you have nothing of value to add. You are simply there to provide a service, not an idea.
In education and non-profits especially, distrust for vendors is high. There is the sense that the folks who work with kids and other valuable stakeholders know exactly what they need and the vendors are just trying to sell them things that are superfluous. And for the most part, looking out at the floor of major conferences, that distrust is well placed. The gadgets and curriculum that are pushed are not tranformational, but are sold as if they were. The space is set up so that you can learn more about the products of a given vendor, but the line between learning and propaganda is razor thin.
And yet, vendors are people too. They go after what they perceive the needs to be with something that they believe will help. And we cut them off from being a part of the conversation because we don’t want to be sold on anything. When they host cloud computing symposiums for mostly vendors to take part in, there isn’t any of the snakiness that you might find in a practitioner only summit. They are looking for solutions. They don’t hide their self-interest, and maybe that is the difference between those on the ground and those who are willing to brand their ideas and sell them to others.
In all of the social networking, self-publishing, and collaborating, we tend to obscure our self-interest. We tend to forget about the fact that we are helping ourselves to whatever results we are after. We also forget the worth of the connections we make. We obscure that many of the contacts we have may at some point have monitary value. This isn’t new. We self-promote up until the point that we could be consider selling our ideas, and no further. Unless of course, someone is buying. If someone is offering to come on board or to consult or to collaborate for a price, then we take on those roles. Yet, we still don’t want to be a vendor.
Vendors are unafraid to be called on their desire to make money. They have plans and contracts for that expressed purpose. We give away our content because we think that there is more value in the conversation than the transaction. But, the conversation is a transaction. We are exchanging information and ideas and building something new. And we should be able to quantify the value we create. If for no other reason than to say to the vendors in our lives that we are vendors too, and that we should be taken seriously.
Just like some vendors won’t listen to a teacher because they don’t hold influence. We don’t listen to vendors because they hold too much. There is something wrong with this equation, and here is what I would like to see to make it better (and not just in education, either):
For the record, the things that I have learned and created with others in the last few days are worth $1500. They weren’t revolutionary, but the evolution of certain connections and ideas was at least worth that much. And anyone who isn’t willing to put a price on their learning should affix some other value that others will be able to understand. I’m not sure there is any other value that will let all stakeholders come to the table and compare apples to apples, but I am open to suggestions.
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