How do you mentally classify your vendors? Do you know how they classify you? Knowing where you stand in your vendor relationships, both from an internal and an external standpoint, is essential for following the vendor management best practices handed down from industry experts. If you view the hardworking companies that provide you with the raw materials, goods and services you need to keep your business humming along as mere resources, you're selling them short and chilling connections.
If you aren't sure where to support the "human side" of the vendor-client relationship, or want to know more about leveraging it to your advantage, here are some helpful jumping-off points:
Express Curiosity about Their Own Brand Loyalty
Entrepreneur's David Ciccarelli encourages companies, wherever possible, to ask vendors how they use their own products. While this obviously isn't applicable in some raw material or component manufacturer situations, it's very helpful when it comes to software, packaging, payment and communications providers.
Honesty and transparency naturally follow personal reviews over broad marketing, cutting through some of the buzzword clutter. Asking a senior-level rep or two their personal opinions of different lines or versions—or, better yet, seeing them use these in person—will give you a much better understanding of how the products in question work in the field.
Make Your Communications, Goals and Expectations Clear
Nothing hurts business quite like a few rounds of beating around the bush, saying-without-saying and bet-hedging behind-the-scenes. While you don't want to alienate your vendors with towering stacks of legalese, as Nicole Marie Richardson explains in an article for INC, putting business expectations in writing effectively removes opportunities for miscommunication to flourish. While phone conversations are usually part-and-parcel of operations, consider recording them (with full consent and knowledge, of course) or following up each call with an email to help keep a paper trail in place for later reference.
Respect Their Setup
Relationship gurus preach that one partner cannot truly change another in a marriage, and the same holds true in vendor relationships. While their inventory systems may be outdated and their filing erratic, coming to negotiation tables with radical organizational change expectations for their workflow will only make you look like a demanding, troublesome client. Instead, ask about your vendor's current work processes, offer to share technology or tips, if they seem receptive, and concentrate on working around, over or through their gaps to ensure your company gets what it needs—regardless if your vendor changes anything.
Always Watch Your Words
Justin James of Tech Republic warns that even if things have gone terribly off the rails, "talking trash" about a vendor to peers is the fastest way to sour a relationship.
While it's fine to relay fact-based stories to other companies if they ask for a recommendation, keep the salacious details minimized and try to highlight some good points to balance the bad. Even if you terminate your relationship with a difficult vendor and they never utter a word in retaliation, you can still earn a reputation as a hard-to-please client.
Your marketplace reputation is vital for finding and negotiating with a new vendor, and if they've caught wind of your face-off, you might find that beneficial traits like net terms are a little harder to obtain than they should be.
Ultimately, the best advice you can follow when determining your own vendor management best practices is the golden rule: treat others how you would like to be treated. Be friendly and forthright in your communications, settle your invoices on time, get to know your vendors and try to support their growth alongside your own with referrals, jobs and advice. A symbiotic relationship will weather a lot of market storms, so the more that you have in your vendor pool, the better your chances at comfortable longevity all around.