For many small businesses, vendors serve a defined purpose: They provide a product or service. Once that is done, the business pays the bill and moves on, until the next time they need the product or service.
In some situations, this model works. However, many businesses have found their vendors are an important part of their success, and are instrumental in their company reaching its goals. Those companies that have developed strategic partnerships with their vendors are often in a better position to achieve their objectives and to maximize their results than those who take a more transactional approach to working with vendors.
Why Vendors are a Valuable Resource
There are several reasons that vendors make ideal strategic partners for small businesses. Among them:
Vendors Have Unparalleled Industry Insights
Vendors have to know their stuff — if they don’t they won’t be in business for long. A company that provides a specific service, particularly in the technology realm, is going to be one step ahead of you in terms of knowledge — and want to help you put that knowledge to use.
For example, a cybersecurity company must stay ahead of the developments in the threat landscape in order to provide the most comprehensive service to its customers. When they are your strategic partner, they can help you evaluate your own protocols to identify potential risks, and anticipate potential issues before they harm your business.
Vendors Have Solutions
Often, small businesses go to their vendors with a plan or a laundry list of what they want done. In some cases, this is fine. However, more often than not, this approach limits the effectiveness of the vendor — and may hold your company back.
Collaborating with vendors often leads to better results. They have solutions to your problems, and they want to help you. Usually, they can offer solutions that you may not have even considered. By coming at your issues from a different angle, your vendor can provide better service.
Vendors Can Educate
While obviously vendors will provide training in the use of their own products, they can also provide education to help your employees do their jobs better. For example, by working closely with a printer or mailing company, your employees can learn about the intricacies of direct mail or some design tips to increase response rates.
Building Better Relationships
Many leadership and management education programs include a vendor management component, especially those in technology management, where vendor relationships are a vital part of their job descriptions. However, for those who haven’t yet had the opportunity for formal training, there are some things that you can do to strengthen vendor relationships:
Get to Know Your Vendors
While some business owners feel uncomfortable being “wined and dined” by their vendors, gold outings, lunches, and other invitations are not just for the purpose of thanking you for your business or encouraging you to spend more. By spending time with vendors outside of the conference room, you can build a stronger relationship by getting to know each other on a personal level. Not to mention, when a vendor gets to know you better, they can provide better service and more tailored solutions.
Ask for input. Vendors want to collaborate, but they will only do so when asked. They aren’t mind readers, so you need to share the problems you’re facing and ask for their ideas. By turning to them and demonstrating that you are open to their solutions, you’re letting them be a strategic partner.
Include them as part of your team. When working on a project in which the vendor is an integral part, or brainstorming ideas and solutions, include your vendors in team meetings when appropriate. Make them feel like they are part of the team, and that you value their input.
Be candid. If there is something not going the way you would like or something is going well, offer feedback. Continuous performance improvement stems from feedback, so don’t be afraid to tell a vendor how you really feel. Constructive criticism at the right moment can go a long way toward strengthening a relationship and improving outcomes, so be honest, and communicate with your vendors.
Again, it’s not necessary to build strategic partnerships with all of your vendors (nor is it always appropriate) but for those who offer vital services to your company, these relationships can make the difference between hitting your goals and not.