Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Small Companies and Small Vendors Can Become Real Partners

There is a great interview with Ken Piddington, CIO of Global Partners LP, on the Network World website about how he implemented an innovate vendor partnership program within his company.

I highly recommend that everyone from big companies, and those who are vendors to large corporations, read this article.  It is full of great suggestions, concepts and tips for improving ways that business can maximize their relationships with suppliers (and create win / win results).

[Note: I have met both Ken Piddington and the writer, John Dix].

But you do not need to be a giant multi-national company to expect meaningful partnership relationships with your vendors.  The same concepts that Ken has put into place are also possible for small companies and solo-entrepreneurs.  The expectations of a strategy for efficiency should be present in all working relationships.  Both the vendors and the clients must create a mutual understanding and a policy of respect.

Here are my thoughts for how small vendors and small customers can better create win / win relationships:

1.  Be realistic.  As a customer I have high expectations of what I expect from those who provide me with products and services.  At the same time I also know that I am a small fish in the ponds where I purchase.  Many small businesses complain that those from whom they make the least money complain the most.  I have talked with several consultants and other businesses who routinely (and happily) fire clients who act as if they are the only priority. As a customer I try to not set unrealistic demands and expectations on those with whom I work.  When there is a difference of opinion in how a situation is handled I attempt to not have an overblown and knee jerk reaction toward my vendors.  Threatening to take my tiny spend elsewhere will not put the fear of God into them, and I do not like to have an adversary relationship with anyone whom I do business.

2.  Ask questions.  When I assume I know what is going on  behind the scenes I almost always screw up the relationship.  The more questions I ask of my vendors and my clients, the better chance I have of getting it right.

3.  Seek solutions through understanding.  When conflict does arrive I try to seek an understanding of their situation.  I had one vendor point out that while they like doing business with me, they do not make any profit from my contract.  They keep me as a client because they believe in me and the growth of my company, but once I realized the realities of my real value to them, my expectations changed.  We continue to work together, and I refer them other clients whenever I can to make up for what I am not paying them in dollars.

4.  Think Win / Win.  Regardless of being the vendor or the client you both should approach all interactions from a pursuit of "win / win" (beyond the exchange of money for services). When this is done well then there is more opportunity for victory.  Too often I used to think my writing a check (as a client) or receiving a check (as a vendor) as the most important part of that relationship.  That changed after having a vendor relationship with a PR firm who I later realized only saw our relationship as their cashing my checks. There was no long term win / win from them.  The experience was a disaster.  Over time I could have provided them with a good amount of referral business beyond the engagement, but they were only concerned with the transactional elements.  They did not care about me, thus I now send my referrals elsewhere.  From the start that relationship was never about the bigger picture for either of us, and that it was doomed to fail.

The PR disaster taught me to interview vendors and seek partners who want to see an ongoing friendship beyond just the transaction.

5.  Say "Thank You".  Even when you are paying someone to do a job, thanking them goes a long way.  When you need to complain, be sure to wrap it in the context of all the good things the vendor has provided you along the way.  If you just focus on the problem, then the value of all the positives that have come before are washed away in a flood of emotion.  If you are the vendor, the "thank you" to the client is a reminder that you appreciate their business.  It is easy to get busy or to turn gratitude into an automated task.  When both partners remember to show appreciation, the relationship lasts longer and pays more dividends.

Regardless of if you are a big company or solo-entrepreneur (or any size in-between) you want meaningful partnerships with your vendors. As a vendor you long for clients who want to see you be successful, not just those who want the best price.  Put plans in place to create better relationships and everyone wins.

In the Network World article Ken Piddington said:
"I said I no longer wanted event driven relationships. I want it to be better planned out, not just you selling me and not just me calling you because of a problem."
Real power comes from the cultivation of long-term and mutually beneficial relationships where everyone is has more success because of those relationships than they would without them.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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