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Mark Harrop, CEO & Founder of WhichPLM, discusses here the difference between PLM vendors who, upon losing a deal, turn to laying blame rather than learning from the opportunity.

As an independent advisor, I attract quite a lot of criticism – mainly because I insist on actually performing the role that retailers, brands, manufacturers and software vendors have entrusted me with, rather than using “independent” as a simple marketing term.

Ever since I founded WhichPLM – in response to what I perceived to be rampant spin-doctoring and sometimes unethical behaviour on the part of some technology software vendors and also several implementers – I’ve encountered scepticism about our practices and ethics despite readily-available proof of the contrary.

And today scarcely a month goes by where I don’t come under direct, personal attack for the decisions a retailer, brand or manufacturer has taken after soliciting my own or the WhichPLM team’s advice.

After long stints working for several different software companies, my day-to-day work in 2015 involves speaking to and visiting fashion businesses of all shapes and sizes who approach WhichPLM for advice.  I or one of my pool of carefully-chosen advisors then applies rigorous, scientific, and completely objective methods to help the retailer, brand or manufacturer understand their need (or otherwise) for PLM, and to allow them to quantify the steps they can take to make better-informed investments in people, products and processes.

The positive results of that work?  Retailers, brands and manufacturers from around the world have independently arrived at a suitable PLM technology decision – empowered by our unbiased educational services and assessment methods. I have established wonderful friendships along the way, and WhichPLM has built a true community.  Retailers & brands I worked with at the beginning of my independent career continue to contribute to our various publications today, and many of the world’s leading PLM vendors (at least those who understand our goals) welcome us into their headquarters to talk to their senior executives, R&D staff, consultants and sales teams alike.

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The negative side? My personal and professional integrity has regularly been called into question in aggressive letters written to the CEOs of organisations who sought out my help.

Routinely, one of several vendors will accuse me of designing a selection process expressly to exclude them and favour a competitor – all while their competitor makes the same accusation in reverse!

In the seven years since WhichPLM began working to build an open and approachable market, I’ve faced furious calls and emails from vendors who honestly believed that their advertising on our editorial website (something entirely and demonstrably divorced from our advisory services) was a chance to buy their way into deals that they or their technologies were ill-suited for.

Indeed, all of these reproaches have come about because a software vendor was adamant that their solution – and in some cases their implementation services and partners – represented the only sensible choice for a given retailer or brand, no matter how poor a fit these things actually were for the task at hand.

Irrespective of whether the RFI / RFP / research process mandated a critical requirement (for example bi-directional integration between PLM and Adobe Suite) and their platform featured no such interoperability, for example, these vendors would at times insist on demonstrating their work-around.

Then, when that essential functionality is found to be missing (in some cases after the vendors attempted their work-around, or tried to pass off in-development modules as being complete) and the brand had chosen to take their business elsewhere, these vendors would blame me.

Sadly, an expletive-filled email would arrive the following week on the desk of the PLM project team lead or the company CEO, claiming that I had taken some form of kick-back from a competitor, and that the decision they were taking was sure to ruin their company.

In more than one instance, these missives told the brand representative that they would “regret” their choice – words that wouldn’t sound out of place in a film about mobsters.

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Needless to say, the vendors that shouted the loudest entirely destroyed the perception of their own people and practices in the process.  The retailers and brands on the receiving end of these communications have all vowed never to work with those vendors, regardless of whether the project is PLM-related.

In fact, having seen the impact of this destructive behaviour first-hand, I can honestly say that they have written themselves out of future, multi-million dollar potential projects in the time it takes to draft one ill-considered, aggressive, knee-jerk email.

But whether these vendors sabotage their reputations with our clients or not, they will always be invited to work with WhichPLM again, because my team and I truly practice what we preach.  We work tirelessly to create an open marketplace, operating on the principles of fairness, transparency, and the recognition that each project we touch is as unique as the retailer or brand behind it.

Invariably, the next time I encounter these vendors (and this might be anywhere in the world), they will be trying the same tricks all over again: attempting to curry my favour, and becoming accusative and adversarial when it becomes clear that I – and WhichPLM itself – can’t be swayed from our mission.

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Nevertheless, in order to act as truly independent advisors, we believe in holding no grudges.  Each new advisory engagement represents a new start, and a fresh opportunity to evaluate what the entire market – including the aggressive vendors – has to offer.

With seven years of rewarding business and a growing library of satisfied clients and friends to show for it, WhichPLM is committed to acting this way.  Our methods and ethics are meeting the needs of readers and clients in all corners of the globe, and the PLM market for apparel continues to grow and diversify in ways we could never have imagined a decade ago.

Unfortunately, it seems that the same cannot always be said for all PLM vendors.

Rather than treating lost opportunities as a chance to take stock, or to re-evaluate their products and the kinds of business they pitch for – something a select few forward-thinking vendors have done – these aggressive companies continue to blame others instead.  Today it might be me; tomorrow it may be another selection consultant.  But never will the responsible party – in their eyes – be themselves.

I recently saw a short opinion piece on LinkedIn, where a prominent business leader drew on an old Indian proverb to explain why criticism served to inspire rather than dissuade her.  “The elephant walks while the dogs keep barking”, the saying went.  The writer’s interpretation was that obvious progress will always attract obvious attention.  Reading this struck a particularly deep chord within me.

Earlier in my career, the kind of responses I receive today might have prompted me to question myself or my methods.  Certainly they are intended to do just that – to push me into self-doubt.  But today I feel like that proverbial elephant, moving forever forwards, surrounded by the barks and yelps of those for whom progress and transparency are things to fear, rather than principles to embrace.

Rather than distracting me or my team from the task at hand, though, negative noise serves only to strengthen our conviction to embrace those ideals and to continue to strive towards a better future for PLM.

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Just because a certain vendor was unsuitable in one instance, for example, doesn’t mean they won’t be a sound choice in the future, and our methods (not to mention my own personal beliefs) are built on the understanding that a fair and open market affords everyone another chance.

If, as a software vendor, that kind of market – the destination this elephant is striving towards – scares you enough to threaten and fight back, then the best advice I can offer would be to ask yourselves why.

Are your sales teams so mired in the mindset that deals (and commission) are everything, that they’re willing to do or say anything – to bark incessantly – to win?

Do you criticise fair and open methods because they threaten to expose limitations you’d prefer not to acknowledge?

Do you threaten to withdraw support of educational or editorial work because you are afraid of facing a better-informed breed of customer?

For many vendors, I know the answers to these questions.  But regardless of how much noise these companies make, WhichPLM will continue in our efforts, and keep working to create a future where partnerships are established – or lost – on merit, suitability and sustainability, not on back-room dealings.

The vendors who conduct themselves correctly know who they are, and that future – a matter of “when” rather than “if” – will welcome those who create far more readily than those who criticise.

Mark Harrop Mark Harrop is the founder and Managing Director of WhichPLM. During a career that has spanned more than four decades, Mark has worked tirelessly to further the cause of PLM – providing the unbiased, expert advice that has enabled some of the world’s best known retailers, brands and manufacturers achieve efficiency savings across their entire supply chain through informed technology investments.