What Matters in Partner & Vendor Relationships?

What Matters in Partner & Vendor Relationships?
Reading Time: 6 minutes

You may think that customers are the key to business success, but in today’s economy, partner & vendor relationships play an important role, too. Choosing the right partners and vendors can have a big impact on the success and growth of your business.

Considering partner and vendor relationships is much more than just “choosing wisely.” You must know the difference between them and use them at the right stage and place them in your business.

Download our Partner & Vendor Evaluation Checklist to help you find the perfect relationship for your business.

What is a Vendor?

Vendors provide specific products or services to businesses and often exist behind the scenes. For example, a trade show vendor may design and deliver supplies and displays to all of your trade shows. They’re critical to the success of your show; they create the signage and set up the booth, but they don’t attend the actual event or interact with prospects. In the digital world, a technology vendor may provide cybersecurity to your company and your client assets. You can assure your clients that all communications and digital assets are protected by cybersecurity measures, but you don’t need to name the vendor or involve them in your client relationships.

What is a Partner?

Partners are usually service or solutions providers who have an equal relationship with each other. For example, many IT companies partner with big-name partners like HP or VMware to provide cloud storage and virtualization services to clients. If the IT company attends a trade show, they don’t try to pass off HP or VMware’s services as their own; they are proud to name them as a partner and discuss services with the partner product or solution by name.

In the website and software industry, your partner may provide WordPress or app development services within Java, Ruby, or Python frameworks. While it’s not necessary to name your development partner to your client, it’s standard practice to refer to your “dev partner” in client communications because your client knows they aren’t an in-house team.

While both vendors and partners are an extension of your business, growing strong partner relationships takes time and endurance. With a partner, you work together, without as much worry about competitors as the vendor relationship. In a partnership, there are still two different entities, but you’ve got a mutual interest in client satisfaction.

So, what really matters in partner & vendor relationships?

Download our Partner & Vendor Evaluation Checklist to help you find the perfect relationship for your business.

Trust

The most important thing in both relationships is trust. From day one, trust needs to be established. You need to get a good impression right from the start; phone calls and emails are returned, meetings are on time, key decision-makers are present on conference calls, etc. If a potential vendor or partner can’t show up to a conference call at a scheduled time, it can be a sign of future issues with delivery and deadlines.

Getting to know each other and understanding both your businesses can go a long way towards building trust. You’ll need to do business with a vendor a few times to build trust, but most partners can prove trustworthy or not during the introductory phase. If communication is open and the partner is open to discussions and meetings, that’s the first step. The next step in building trust with a partner is to review testimonials or ask for references. Connect with key players on LinkedIn and read through their recommendations. Review their company social media channels; if a vendor is hiding from Twitter or Facebook, there’s usually a reason, and it’s not a good one.

If you can’t meet with a vendor or partner in person, don’t stress. There will be a time and a place to get to know your vendors and partners in person; let teleconferencing and screen sharing tools open up your vendor and partner options.

Expertise

You’re obviously not going to choose to work with someone who is new to the industry. When selecting vendors and partners, you need to check that they are experts in their field and deliver everything they say they can. Can they back up their words or credentials? Have you read case studies, white papers or previous testimonials?

For your relationship to work, you need to be on board with their product or service and feel confident that they are one of the best vendors or service provider partners out there.

Vendor Expertise vs. Partner Expertise

While the last thing you want is for a relationship to reflect badly on your business, a vendor who offers general services or products is a lower risk than a partner who offers non-niche services, especially in the technology world. In most cases, vendors need to deliver items on time and as promised for success. Partners need to deliver quality services or solutions within their area of expertise.

Growth Potential

Vendor relationships are simple; if services or products are delivered on time and as promised, everyone is happy. The partner relationship is more in-depth; it needs to be nurtured and grow. With a partnership, remember, you both must get something out of the relationship in order for it to work, so check in often and address concerns before they become issues.

Evaluate both vendors and partners for growth potential. As your company grows, will the vendor or partner still provide value and keep pace? Is there potential for the vendor to become a partner?

Respect & Resolutions

Partner relationships rarely work if one side feels slighted. Respect partners by addressing issues early on in the relationship and identify targets and expectations. If one party treats the other without respect or acts out, the relationship will soon crumble.

So, if you feel things are veering in the wrong direction in a new partnership, take steps to resolve things and get the relationship on track as soon as possible. Issues and conflicts aren’t a sign of a terrible partner relationship, but an inability to identify, address, and resolve situations without mutual respect is not going to provide a solid foundation of trust and respect.

Remember, it’s difficult to find good, experienced partners within a niche, so when you find one, work hard to keep them.

It’s difficult to find good, experienced #partners within the #tech niche. When you find one, work hard to keep them. Click To Tweet

Communication

It may sound like a simple piece of advice, but you can’t have a partner or vendor relationship without communication. And when communication drops off, that’s when business relationships go stale, or worse, mistakes happen.

If you don’t communicate properly how can you expect to get the job done successfully?

Set out from the beginning how you are going to communicate, and how often you both expect updates, phone calls, emails and face to face meetings.

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One of the best things you can do is figure out how your partner or vendor likes to communicate and learn to speak their language. Or go one step further, and dedicate someone to managing your relationship, and offer further points of contact should they not be available.

‘The basic best practice is that [vendor relationship management] has to be a formal job responsibility of someone on the team so that it is actively measured, monitored and managed.’ (searchitchannel)

Ground rules

To avoid any mishaps or misunderstandings, it’s always a good idea to set some firm ground rules. This may feel a little restrictive initially, but it will help you to build trust, and you can relax a little once you’ve both figured each other out. Your ground rules might include things like when you expect reports to be delivered, how you want products or work to be managed and how to communicate with clients.

Pricing

Vendor pricing is usually set unless you can purchase bulk orders of services or supplies. With partners, of course, you’re going to want to get the best possible deal so you can achieve attractive margins, but don’t push your luck too far. Partners don’t appreciate relationships where price negotiations are a constant topic of conversation.

Remember, you’re not just paying for services or solutions. You’re paying for the team that you’re working with; their expertise, their communication abilities, and their reputation.

Values

And lastly, values are crucial when it comes to what really matters in a partner and vendor relationship. Do your business values match up? It can often be hard to find vendors and partners that match your style of business in today’s startup world. Asking about values upfront is a worthwhile endeavor; if a company exists simply to grow and get acquired in the near future, you may want to move on to a company with a proven brand name.

Download our Partner & Vendor Evaluation Checklist to help you find the perfect relationship for your business.

Summary

So, there you have it. The most important things in partner and vendor relationships. Some of them may not exactly be rocket science, but they’re still rules you should live by. It’s the same with any relationship business relationship; you will always need trust, communication and mutual respect.

Treat your vendors well, for one day they may evolve into a valued partner. Treat your business partners with great respect because whether you’re happy to admit it or not, they truly do contribute to your overall success.

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