In a recent post, Bill Drew tells booksellers, “Don’t call us, we will call you if we want your publications.” When I first read the post, I agreed wholeheartedly with Bill. However, after a little more reflection, I realized I had a slightly different view of book sellers and vendors.
Most days, I happen to agree with what Bill said. As a matter of fact, I get pretty frustrated with cold calls from vendors. It’s as if they’re thinking that I have all of the time in the world to talk with them about the latest issue of a serial, a new reference book that we’ve got to have, or a database that I’ve got to trial. However, when I talk to them, I try my best to be cordial, because they’re just doing their jobs. I never hang up on them, although I have been guilty of screening my calls.
Relationships with vendors can be a little tenuous. They want your money, and are going to keep trying to sell you products and services to get it. They don’t get paid or promoted if they don’t sell you anything. It’s capitalism at its best. Unfortunately for vendors, selling library materials to libraries is not like selling iPods to students. Libraries have very limited budgets, so it is often very difficult to talk librarians into parting with their money. Usually a large purchase means that the library will need to cut another subscription to free up the funds to pay for the book, journal, or database. In this zero-sum game, there will be vendors who win the new contract and others who will lose when the library cancels a subscription. Most vendors that I deal with understand this, and they know how hard it can be for libraries to cut sources to buy new ones. I try to talk with the ones that don’t understand this, so they know that our library doesn’t have a money tree in the backyard.
I’ve been able to purchase a number of databases this fiscal year, but I’ve had to cut my monograph budget in the process. Our business students and researchers are requesting more and more electronic resources, and I’ve worked to accommodate this shift in information needs. Believe it or not, vendors have helped in this process. I’ve had a couple of vendors who would call me or email me periodically over the past 18 months. Yes, at times I found it annoying when I would get calls out of the blue. However, these vendors were not overly pushy, and they seemed to have an interest in developing a business relationship. I kept telling the vendors that I was not ready to make a purchase, but they would check back periodically to see if my financial situation had changed. The good vendors are very persistent, and they know that a sale does not happen overnight.
Throughout the process, I was able to work with the vendors to get trials, demonstrations, and literature for their products. The grooming of this relationship probably helped somewhat in negotiating the prices of the products when I did decide to purchase the resources. And now that I subscribe to the databases, the role of the vendor has changed from a salesperson to a support person. Whenever I have a question about the products or have problems with our subscription, the vendors are very responsive to my inquiries. I’m convinced that if at any time I had been rude to them or had not followed the “golden rule”, my relationship with them would not be as good. If I was rude or had hung up on them, I’m sure that they still would have been glad to sell me their products, but I imagine they would be less enthusiastic about offering their support for the product.
I realize librarians are all incredibly busy people, and we all have bad days. If you’re like me and you wear many hats, it can be annoying when a vendor calls out of the blue and expects you to take 20 minutes to listen to their sales pitch. The easy thing to do is to hang up on them or tell them that you not at all interested in listening to what they have to say. I generally try to tell them that I can’t talk at the moment, but would be willing to set aside some time at a later date. These phone meetings take the pressure off of me, as I don’t have to listen to them while knowing I need to be doing something else. I generally tell the vendor to email me some information about their product to review, and that I’ll enjoy talking to them later. This gives me the opportunity to review the literature myself, do a little research on the product, and allow me to make a list of questions before the phone meeting. I’m then better prepared to talk to the vendor, and being an educated customer makes the meeting less of a one-sided sales pitch and more of a conversation. If at the end of the conversation I’m still not sold on the product, I will tell the vendor so. There’s nothing rude about this, as I’ve set aside some time to learn more from the vendor about the product. I did not hang up on them, and did not burn any bridges in the process. If sometime down the road I find that our library might wish to pursue the product, the vendor is usually more than happy to talk again, since he/she knows that he/she will be treated like a person whether or not they make the sale.