Vendor-client relations: like a marriage?

January 12, 2018

This week I lost my best client.

 

Ouch.

 

The client represents a fair share of my annual revenue, and for two years they’ve raved about my work. But after an organizational restructuring and a changing of the guard, I was told to “bill us for any outstanding work.” Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls.

 

It got me thinking about my years in corporate communications, when I managed the production of marketing materials, a magazine and an annual report. I hired many vendors for creative services—writers, designers, photographers, offset printers and mailing houses. Many of them had been working with the organization when I arrived, but I felt it was important to build my own team—people who shared my creative vision, gave great service and helped me meet my bottom line. If a standing vendor failed to deliver on any of those three criteria, out s/he went.

 

Now and then I would change creative agencies, just to break out of the rut that’s so easy to fall into with an unchanging marketing calendar. I’d wait until a contract ran out, then issue an RFP to find someone new.

I was, you might say, serially monogamous with my vendors, and I never stayed married long.

 

I rarely, if ever, gave much thought to how the loss of my patronage might impact the businesses I let go after the bloom was off the rose. In some cases, I canceled contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars without even blinking. I cleaved to the conventional wisdom that good enough was not good enough, and that staying with the same vendor for years might reflect poorly on my own performance.

 

Now, as often happens, the shoe is on the other foot. Thankfully, I’ve been smart enough to keep marketing my writing and editing business even in times of plenty. But I still have to wonder about the irony of it all.

 

If I had it to do over again, I would try to build vendor relationships using the guidelines like these, set out in a blog post by James Bucki, writing for www.TheBalance.com. In “The Top 8 Vendor Management Success Tips,” Bucki writes:

 

“Vendor management allows you to build a relationship with your suppliers and service providers that will strengthen both businesses. Vendor management is not negotiating the lowest price possible but constantly working with your vendors to come to agreements that will mutually benefit both companies.”

 

Bucki advises two-way communication, a partnership approach, becoming familiar with your vendor’s business, and my personal favorite, “Allow[ing] key vendors to help you strategize.” That approach would have made a world of difference for the vendors I once hired and dismissed, and it’s something I will strive for with my current and future clients.

Have you been on both sides of the vendor/client fence?

Comment below to shed some light on what you’ve learned.

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