Frank Floor Talk: Do you respect your vendors?

December 20, 2022 8:00 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
December 20, 2022 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

It’s uncertain who first wrote the tune “Respect.” Some say it was a guitarist working in a recording studio in Macon, Georgia in the early ‘60s. But for certain it was Speedo Sims, who intended to record it with his band, the Singing Demons. However, he could never produce a good version. So, he took it to singer/ songwriter Otis Reading. Otis sped up the tempo of the original ballad, rewrote some of the words and released it in the summer of 1965. It soon made the Top Five on the “Black Singles” chart. But just two years later, the incomparable Aretha Franklin reworked the lyrics again, with her version spelling out each individual letter of the title.

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This time the song became an immediate hit after its recording on Valentine’s Day 1967. In 2021, “Rolling Stone” placed it #1 on the list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” One segment in Franklin’s original version contained the unforgettable line, “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect.”

Casino sales folks and software developers can relate. You’ll never hear any vendor publicly complaining, but almost all grouse privately about the lack of respect and the rude treatments they’ve endured from operators. It may earn an “OK boomer” tag from some younger operators, but a lot of vendors say the problem is far worse today than ever before.

Of course, you may have little sympathy for their complaints since you’re the one enduring their pitches, making the decisions, and paying the invoices. But this lack of respect is not only irritating and frustrating to them, it is costing all of us more in the long run and perhaps hurting your reputation.

Need an example? A recent industry query we conducted netted dozens of cases from blatant to subtle; from mean-spirited to unintentional. But regardless of why, they all add up to a lack of respect and just one more source of product inflation.

One slot director consistently kept sales folks waiting in the reception area for up to an hour or more after their scheduled appointment to meet with them. It wasn’t due to emergencies or unexpected conflicts; it was just his/her standard practice; a way of demonstrating some perverse form of control. Sadly, sales pros are used to such rude behaviors, but will still show up on time to show their professionalism for the client. But do you imagine when these same vendor reps have some discretion on availability, discounts, shipping, etc. that they’d give any preferential treatment to those who purposely prolonged their day and often made them miss other appointments? Not likely.

A far more common complaint, and one that is becoming epidemic, is the practice of “ghosting.” This is when a contract or proposal has been submitted and suddenly the operator goes radio silent. They won’t respond to voice mails, texts, or emails. In some cases, it’s so bad that salespersons were concerned enough to call the casino switchboard to check to see if their contact was still alive, well and employed at the casino. More than a few vendors said, “No one answers their phone anymore and no one calls you back.”

The respectful practice is to tell the vendor promptly and directly Yes or No. As one rep said, “Sales professionals are big people. We have been told ‘No’ before. We can handle it. I would much rather have a customer be accessible and say ‘No’ than get drug along for a year and never have anything come out of the proposal.”

Giving a positive or negative response promptly is the right thing to do. Some say they don’t answer vendor calls since it takes too much time from their day. However, it can be quicker to respond promptly, rather than ignoring multiple messages, tying up the receptionist and dodging invites and emails. You’ll also free up the salesperson to pursue other leads, saving both of you time and money.

If you want to gain a reputation for professionalism, take a few extra minutes to explain to the vendor why their bid/contract/product was not what you were seeking. This helps them, and eventually you, have better products. Other sales reps said, “Be honest with us and tell us why you’re not interested. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, and that can be clarified. Or maybe the solution is not for you. But at least we do not have to chase the customer wasting their time and ours that could be spent on a viable deal.”

Another frequently heard complaint is about the amount of time contracts can sit in the legal department for review. Of course, this a necessary and important step to avoid misunderstandings and protect the casino’s interests. But it shouldn’t take weeks or months. Often, after lengthy delays, the explanation is simply, “we have a standard contract form.”

If that’s the case, why not present those standard contract conditions as a handout for all vendors in advance? You could even post these standards on a restricted section of your website. With either method, the vendor can make their original proposal as compliant as possible. The review process should then be expedited.

Contracts can also get hung up with Information Technology. The blame here is often the individual department operator who’s siloed and not working closely with their own IT team as early in the process as possible. It’s extremely frustrating for both sides to go through the bid and contract process only to learn you have selected something that is not compatible with your existing systems or violates your security protocols. Again, this wastes time and money; eventually we all pay the bill.

A lack of understanding technology can also result in a great deal of vendor frustration. While asking a software developer for special features or code customization may seem like a great idea to distinguish your operation and get a leg up on competitors, it is an all-around bad idea. Part of the blame lies with the vendors who should show more discipline and just say “no” themselves.

Many slot systems today are littered with dozens of custom features which are different at each property. This makes upgrades and patches a nightmare for both the vendor and the casino. The operator will often point the finger at the provider, when the root cause of the problem was all the “special” features they requested earlier.

Dozens of talented vendor programmers have left their organizations out of frustration, rather than constantly trying (and failing) to support dozens of different versions of their basic product. Do you really think that your individual casino needs to do things differently than everyone else in the industry? Really??  Mature systems have incorporated the best practices in both hardware and software over the years and very careful consideration should be given before asking for custom variations.

An interesting example from a few years back was Caesar’s innovative Rewards Program. They had the foresight to make their offers and rewards consistent and easy-to-understand to customers across the country. However, behind the scenes, countless versions of system software and hardware made their “backend” a virtual tower of babble. Some properties were using serial cables, running obsolete software; while some of their casinos were using proprietary code written in-house; and at the same time others were using cutting-edge tech with high-speed ethernet, fiber backbones and the latest system upgrades. Executives often curse software vendors, when the blame was their own lack of providing consistent infrastructure.

Things do change, and generally improve, over time. A far better practice by both operators and vendors is to include any software changes and new features in the next General Release available to all operators, rather than asking for individual improvements. Vendors could do more frequent and timely upgrades (with far less hassle) if they didn’t have to support dozens of custom installations.

One software developer said, “Customizations should not be part of the ‘software’ business. That’s a ‘services’ business. And over time, ‘services’ can end up being a lot more expensive and time consuming. They are seldom worth it in the long run.”

Several other software providers mentioned the practice of operators probing vendors for specs, features, pitfalls, roadmaps, flowcharts, and other ideas over months, only to then announce that they decided to build their own app or software product themselves. While that may sound perfectly fine, note that it is exactly what our government constantly complains about when Chinese manufacturers violate patents and steal proprietary American technology.

One final point concerns how you relate to your vendor sales reps. Naturally, their primary mission is to sell you something. But unless they are new to the job, they also have a wealth of information that can make you a better operator. Rather than dismissing them quickly, you need to make time in you day to listen to them and pick their brains. They visit your competitors frequently, attend meetings on industry trends, hear diverse opinions and know who’s doing well (or not) better than most. This is valuable information and often your only source for breaking news.

From their best-selling book, “The Barefoot Spirit”, authors Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey argue, “No one knows the marketplace better than the professional salesperson. Their livelihood depends on it. Progressive companies recognize their special skills and capitalize on their unique position. But of all the skills that these sales specialists must utilize, none is more essential to success than relationship building.”

Any relationship is a two-way street, and they only develop by giving some respect to both sides. In case your vendor rep is a “freshman,” pay it forward yourself and share some your expertise with them. It will benefit your successors down the road and do just a little to make everyone in the industry better.

It all comes down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Sing it again, Aretha.