The Importance of a Great Customer / Vendor Relationship
Nurturing good relationships in business is a lot like doing the same in our personal lives. Just like in our personal lives, a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to any type of relationship usually won’t work. A vendor relationship is perhaps one of your most important in business. It’s easy to fall into the, “I’m a customer, and they must do whatever I want” line of thinking. At the same time, there is a reciprocal need on the part of the customers to try to keep the relationship happy. Here are a few things you can do to help maintain the best relationship possible with your vendors.
Learn the Marketplace
When dealing with a vendor, it’s important to know what the marketplace for their services or goods is like. Not that you should be hanging it over their head if you have options, but it is good to know what the norm is and whether you really have any choices at all. For example, if your vendor has a one-day response time but other vendors have four-hour response times, you can use that as leverage for quicker service. In other cases, you may learn that your vendor is the only one you can get the services from at all, so it is in your best interests to play nicely with them.
Know Their Responsibilities and Scope of Service
One of the keys to having a good relationship with a vendor is to know what they must do — and to not expect them to do anything more. Your contract should lay that all out very clearly. If it does not, you need to find out quickly and get the contract clarified. You’ll see a lot of items in this list that boil down to the same fundamental issue: a mismatch of expectations. The contract is the only thing you can count on when the going gets tough, so make sure that your expectations are aligned to it.
Understand that they have other customers
All too often, customers act as if they own a vendor or that they are the vendor’s only customer. Sometimes, the person you want to work with is helping another customer and you need to deal with someone else. Unless you have a contract for long-term, continued work, you can’t expect to shoot an email out with a request and have them start servicing it within minutes of receipt, and so on.
Learn what they need from you
Customers often just want to just wash their hands of a problem and let the vendor take over, but that’s not realistic. Just as a doctor can’t make you better if you refuse to take medicine and get lots of sleep, the vendor usually needs you to do some of the lifting too. Throughout the course of the work, make sure that you know exactly what you can do to let the vendor do their job and try your best to give it to them.
Separate the people from the company
Many times, a vendor’s employees are handcuffed by processes, and it is easy for customers to get angry at the person for not doing what they want. When your needs are not being met, ask the person whether it is the process that is saying “no” or the person making a decision.
Pay them on time
If you want a vendor’s support for you to vanish, try not paying your bill. For whatever reason, some customers feel that not paying their bill in a timely fashion is acceptable. Every now and then, a customer will use non-payment as a sign of displeasure, such as leaving a bad tip at a restaurant.
On occasion, the problem is simply that the vendor and the customer have a different idea of when a bill should be paid. Sometimes, the customer has an accounting policy such as “Net 60” and doesn’t mention that to the vendor during the contract negotiations. As a result, the vendor is surprised when it takes a few months to receive a payment. During your contract discussions, make sure that their expectations of “on time” payment and yours are in alignment.
Meet them halfway
A customer/vendor relationship is ideally a partnership. The vendor is going to have their own way of doing things, and it will be different from yours. Just like you expect them to adapt to your company’s policies, you should be willing to make exceptions for them as well.
Make your expectations known early
The earlier you make your expectations clear to the vendor, the sooner you will find out if and how they can be met. The best time, of course, is during the initial discussions — and to have those expectations baked into your contract. There are lots of things that get omitted from contracts. By talking to the vendor, you can find out what is and is not possible. Without that discussion, you will simply be disappointed and upset.
Remember: They’re human too!
A vendor’s people make mistakes, just like you do. Sometimes, vendors truly are deserving of your anger, but often, the mistakes are the kinds of everyday goofs that we’d do ourselves such as things your own employees might do. There’s no need to get bent out of shape over a simple error.
There are three keys to a great vendor relationship: trust between the vendor and client is the foundation of all vendor relationships; honesty is required on both sides so tough questions receive the right answers (even if they are not the answers that were hoped for); and responsiveness to each other’s issues and concerns is critical. The tips in this article will help you build these satisfying long term relationships and make a big difference in the results you achieve with your vendors.