Over the course of my career I’ve had some great opportunities to manage a few complex IT vendor relationships and I’ve also been a vendor myself. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to get the most value from your vendor relationships:
1. Take the emotion out of the relationship.
On a couple occasions I’ve stepped into some pretty tough vendor relationships. Emotions were running high on both sides. It was as if every little thing set each other off taking the team down rathole after rathole chasing perceived issues that simply wasted a lot of people’s time. The problem was that all the emotion fogged everyone’s ability to see what the real issues were, much less determine solutions. In any sort of vendor relationship, positive or negative, keep your emotions out of it.
2. Take the ambiguity out of the relationship.
Now that your head is clear, really focus on being specific about the issues and problems, your expectations, and the approach and solutions. This takes WORK. This means you need to read contracts, evaluate the current status or progress, define and document a clear approach for moving forward, and (don’t forget!) agreeing upon and putting clear measures in place. These measures need to be as undebatable as possible and depend very much on the scope of the vendor’s product or service. This step requires working closely with key stakeholders and vendors. It requires documentation to ensure total clarity by both parties about what is expected and planned, as well as ongoing documentation of the results. Did I mention this step takes work?
3. Establish trust.
This takes TIME. This step is all about relationship building to optimize value. Everyone knows communication is the key to a good relationship, right? So why are vendor relationships an exception? Having communication with your vendors about what you are trying to accomplish and why, what challenges you are facing as a customer, and the constraints you are up against establishes trust and positions your vendor to be part of the solution to business challenges you face. Good vendors want to help and they will try to find ways to make you happy. When there is trust, vendors will put their best foot forward when responding to your requests and they will offer ‘extras’ when they recongize you consider them a valuable partner and a part of your success. When there is a lack of trust, vendors sometimes start to pull back. Trust doesn’t mean the relationship is rosy, it just means you, as a client, get closer to achieving your business objectives by building a relationship that helps you optimize the value of the vendor relationship.