Relationships between us and vendors have become even more important in recent days. Competition among vendors is a lot more aggressive than it was in the past, and suppliers have to work harder to get business and even harder to keep it.
Some of the success of our service is partly contingent upon the work of vendors which reflects back on our services. In essence, their success is your success. Well-selected, reliable vendors with proven records of high performance certainly can help you succeed with your projects, but you in turn must put effort into building a solid working relationship with your vendors, a relationship that should evolve beyond the simple services rendered and into a true business partnership. The ideal partnership for both parties is long-term—through good and poor economic trends—and is based on communication, trust, and information sharing.
Establish the Connection
Much like any other relationship, vendor relationships are built upon trust, respect, and communication. At the onset of any new vendor relationship, both parties must clearly articulate themselves to arrive at a mutual understanding of wants, needs, and end results. From the start, we should give vendors all pertinent information that relates to the project. Allowing the vendor to understand your and its goals—both internal and external—will provide insight into the specific project and possible future ones. While it is the vendor’s responsibility to become familiar with our needs and goals, we should reciprocate by understanding those of the vendor. It pays to know what else your vendor has in their arsenal.
Be a GOOD Client
Just as you want a “model” client, vendors also want model clients. Too often, we approach our vendors with a “do-what-we-tell-you” model, which can exclude vendors from all communications. Time and time again, vendors identify their most valuable clients as those who keep the lines of communication free and clear and provide them with timely information on decisions that will affect their services. In the best-case scenario, the vendor’s representative is involved in all discussions about the service that they are helping to produce. Vendors often can make a valuable contribution to the decision-making process when it involves their area of expertise.
Joining the ranks of the model clients on your vendor’s VIP list is not as difficult as you might think. Simple steps can build the relationship with your vendor, making it easier to help your association make the conference a success.
One of the more obvious, but often not as common as vendors would like, is the act of returning a representative’s phone calls and e-mails (better yet, not only returning them, but returning them sooner rather than later). It is understandable that being in an agency, your schedule is already swamped, but it is very frustrating to a vendor if they can’t get in touch with you for an answer or a “green light.” Delaying replies to pressing inquiries from your vendor will hinder planning and possibly have a negative effect on the campaign/project.
Another behavior that can put you on a vendor’s “A list” is giving the vendor some latitude to exercise his or her own judgment and experience in providing your services. After all, you hired the vendor to do a specific task, something in which they excel. Letting go of your anxiety and allowing vendors to “do their thing” requires trust: something that for some is hard to attain. Without trust, though, you and your vendors both will be treading water.
The selection of a vendor as a collaborator or an advocate is essentially a statement of trust. Considering that you’ve researched references, looked at work samples, and met with them several times before committing to a statement of work, you can assume with some confidence that the vendors we are working with are professionals, and the success of a campaign can be multiplied when your vendors are treated as trusted advisors who provide insight on a project based on their expertise. Trust a vendor’s advice and judgment on what they know best—their business.
Open communication with your vendor’s representative will lead to a dialogue, which leads to the building of a relationship that enables you to consult with your representative as a knowledgeable advisor. Vendors can rely on their previous experiences to guide your association in making informed decisions that will strengthen your meeting or the value of whatever you purchase. The positive effects of treating vendors with respect for their knowledge and skill will show in the work that they do for you. Like anyone else, their motivation for excellence is increased when they feel they are treated with respect, as equals, rather than subordinates.
Of course, trust and respect are earned. By the time you start actually working with your vendor, though, your trust in them and theirs in you should already be well established through your preliminary meetings and reviews of the vendor’s previous work. Vendors who have worked successfully with and earned the trust of our colleagues whom you respect are likely deserving of your trust as well. Smart executives look first to their colleagues for recommendations of successful vendors.
Supporting Your Vendors
When you and a vendor truly “click,” then your relationship should not end with the completion of the statement of work. If a vendor made your project a success, then maintain your ties to draw upon that person’s experience and expertise in the future. One way to support your vendor after a successful project or event is to tell your colleagues about it. Giving referrals is a great way to recognize the quality service provided by the vendor. Word of mouth referrals are often more beneficial to a vendor’s new business strategy than any other method of promotion. Think of yourself as a spokesperson for the vendor’s services. Because you can attest to the quality of service and work your vendors provide and you have direct experience in working with them, you are qualified to speak on the vendor’s behalf to their benefit.
Giving thanks and recognition should be an obvious component to any vendor relationship. Not only is it the professional and courteous thing to do, but it also shows your business partner that you appreciate the hard work that was put into making your meeting a success. When appropriate, a heartfelt thank-you letter, copied to the vendors’ manager, is a meaningful gesture of appreciation. This not only lets your contact know you appreciate the work they’ve done for you, but it also shows their supervisors the good work that is being done by their staff.
Another way to reach out to your top vendors is to recognize personal events in the business partner’s life. Send personalized notes or gifts to acknowledge new births, holidays, birthdays, or other momentous occasions. These expressions show that you value your representative as a person as well as a business partner.
Why It’s Worth the Bother
Building a vendor relationship may require some additional effort by you and your staff, but the potential benefits of the relationship far outweigh the extra time. When you have a great relationship with a vendor, they become an extension of your association’s team, and this can result in new opportunities, savings, and benefits for your association and members. As you work with vendors to plan your project or campaign, pay attention not only to the details of the event but also to the details of the vendor relationship. Vendor collaboration and planning will run that much more smoothly as a result.