5 principles for great vendor relationships

Vendor relationships are a golden – and often missed – opportunity when thinking about target audiences. Like employees, these can be powerful recommenders (or objectors) to your organization. Think about it – vendors work closely with your team, rely on your prompt payment and have a direct impact on the quality of the products you produce.

In fact, the most powerful vendors are those who are seen as core members of the team. Cultivating these relationships can be extremely beneficial in both the quality of work and your bottom line.

Here are 5 key takeaways to move your vendor relationship program from “standard” to “great.”

1. Do unto others…and keep them paid!

The last year has been full of unpredictability, and for many businesses, knowing how and when they’d get paid was an unwelcome byproduct of the pandemic. But COVID aside, vendors will be more responsive and more apt to overdeliver if they know you value their time. I’ve known many businesses who live by the “squeaky wheel gets oiled” philosophy when paying their vendors, and the relationship always suffers. On the flip side, vendors who know you will take care of them will return the favor. If there’s a supply chain issue, who do you think gets served first? The ones who never let the wheels squeak.

2. Vendor relationships should not be transactional.

Many vendors treat relationships with their clients like vending machines. The client asks for a service. The service is provided. The transaction is over. We have transactional relationships in our lives when we buy groceries or get gas. But these types of relationships don’t belong in vendor relations.

Expect more from your vendor, but also be more when you are in a client role. You are hiring a vendor not just for their ability to produce something you cannot create. You are hiring them for their professional expertise and their ability to specialize and deliver top-quality, industry-leading counsel. Don’t settle for vending machine vendors, and don’t be a vending machine client either.

3. Invest time to make vendor relationships meaningful and strategic.

Switching from vendor relationships that are transactional to strategic takes time and effort. It takes communication. It takes understanding a company’s culture and its short-term and long-term goals.

At the beginning of a vendor relationship, take the time to ensure your vendor is interested in learning your company’s strategies as well as your immediate project needs. Then, continue that conversation throughout your relationship. If your vendor isn’t interested in walking with you toward your goals and strategy, it may be time to find a new vendor.

4. Take time to appreciate your vendors.

Over the holidays, one of our clients sent Resolute team members each a mini live Christmas tree to thank us for our services. It was an amazing surprise, as we are often the ones who are searching for unique ways to thank clients who work with us. However, it was a great reminder to be intentional with vendors to make sure they feel appreciated for their efforts, too.

If you appreciate your vendor, tell them. (And if you don’t, tell them that too!) They need feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Just because you are in the driver’s seat in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t express your gratitude (or the lack thereof) for the help you get.

5. Vendor relationships are just like all other relationships – they need time, attention and intentionality to grow.

Just like your friendships, professional associations or coworker relationships, vendor relationships grow in all the same ways. Talk to your key partners regularly. Take time to understand their struggles and their areas of growth. Yes, they are hired to serve you, but building mutual relationships with them will only positively spur the relationship further for both of you.

Quality vendor relations can improve your overall processes and end goals. It will certainly create better outcomes for the projects you are outsourcing to the vendor.