Vendor.

I’m a vendor. I don’t work in the education space, although I’ve been a vendor there as well. I support a client, the US Senate, and while I’m not selling a physical product, I am selling a product, the quality of my work.

I work on a team of vendors and full-time Senate employees. I’m lucky because there is zero distinction on my team between us and we’re all treated as equals. Our ideas, our work, and our friendships—all equal.

But, I’ve also been on the other side, where the relationship sucks and I’m not appreciated. I once ran a meeting where a client refused to look at me, speak directly to me, or even recognize my presence when entering and exiting the room. In my own defense (while not necessary), I am wildly personable. I handled the meeting with a smile.

I’ve seen a decent number of tweets over the last two years (always heightened around the time of conferences) that basically hate on vendors. Higher education is infamous for snark. It’s filled with tons of ridiculously smart people and Twitter presents the perfect avenue for short, witty, insensitive comments, especially because individuals are able to hide behind an avatar and a keyboard.

As a current outsider to the industry (and, like energy, food, and media, higher education is an industry), I’d like to remind you that a “vendor” is also a person.

Vendors make cold calls and warm calls. EM pros make cold calls and warm calls. Vendors give presentations and tours of products. EM pros give presentations and tours of institutions. We all know that the vendor/client relationship in higher education is symbiotic, whether you want to admit it or not. What is forgotten is that the relationship is also parallel, just on different planes. Vendors pitch to clients. Clients pitch to students. "But they're [sometimes] so obnoxious!" you say. Thought: if you can't cope with [sometimes] obnoxious, you're in the wrong field. I can think of a very large group of individuals that provide the foundation of higher education--teenagers. And in reverse, I bet some teenagers think the exact same thing of [sometimes] you.

The #EMchat community is made up of a phenomenal mix of VPs of EM, Directors of Admissions, all the way down to fresh admissions counselors. It’s also made up of an eclectic mix of companies, non-profit organizations, independent consultants, students, and individuals who are looking to jump into the field. I’m proud that this community respects one another; I would have made my exit if it didn’t.

As everyone heads off to Toronto this week, carry this post in your mind. When you see an eye roll, hear a scoff, or simply witness someone being rude, toss a friendly reminder that we’re in the business of relationships—all of us.

And, no one ever complains about the ridiculously sweet parties and giveaways. Don’t forget that, either.