Are you a partner or just a vendor?
If you’re a service-based company, you are always striving to build your customer relationship up to the point to be truly called a partner. It’s such a compliment. It means you’ve committed the time and effort to understand the customer’s environment, their mission and their goals. You have built a bond where you can give advice and the customer doesn’t quickly think, “How much is this going to cost me?” and instead focuses on the positive outcomes that will come for both organizations.
So how do you know if you’re a vendor versus a partner? Here are some common perceptions:
- Alignment of core values and clear communication are foundational to a solid partnership. I think this is important no matter if it’s a vendor or partner. We’re a pretty eco-friendly company. I’d be devastated to find out partners or vendors that didn’t engage in the same “recycle, reuse” mentality that we do.
- The people you partner with to help execute your vision are not just doing their jobs, they are also delivering to the best of their ability and working toward a common goal. They are a direct reflection of you and your company. We look for this in vendors and partners. Why look for someone who’s just going through the motions when you have better options?
- Vendors are transactional and replaceable, whereas partners are long-term relationships critical to your success. Not so fast—this isn’t so simple. For example, I have a great relationship with the company who maintains our lawn/landscaping. The last thing I ever have to worry about is that small detail, but it’s one less thing to think about. Equally incorrect is that partners are long term. I have a good relationship with our bank, but because of the multiple changes we’ve had with the bank industry, we’ve had 5 bankers over the past 8 years. Bank dealings can be seen as transactional, and as long as you don’t have “unique” needs, it might be worth continuing to treat this as a vendor relationship.
- Vendors simply perform a service—partners have skin in the game and know that your success is their success. Again, not so simple. It’s harder and harder today to determine who’s got skin in what game. A small business always has skin in the game, because they are playing margins on small numbers and can’t afford to lose clients. I revert back to perception #1—if we’re both focused on good values and communications, we all have skin in the game.
- Transforming vendors into partners can be a great benefit to your business and accelerate growth. I can’t agree more. For every project we do, every customer request should be treated like it’s meant to ensure our customers see us as partners. In government contracting, there is sometimes a fine line (based on the contract) where that lies, but we should consider options, offer suggestions, and look for ways to meet and exceed our customer requirements. Building trust is key, and making sure they see you as an extension to their organization versus just being another contractor is key to going from vendor to partner!