The client-vendor relationship is complex – riddled with negotiations, expectations, and often, judgement errors. Having worked in an agency environment as well as on the client side of business (and now independently), I’ve been on both sides of the table. The very simple truth is that your vendors will perform as well as you let them.
What can we all do to get more and better work from our vendors? Treat them right.
1. Respect Their Time
The number of instances where I’ve arranged for a vendor to meet, and my superiors have insisted on letting them “sit and wait” has been disrespectfully high. When you’ve set a time to meet them, keeping them hanging isn’t going to make you look super busy, it’s just going to make you look unprofessional. Sure, agencies and suppliers need your business for a livelihood – but present an attitude of triviality towards their time, and you’ve got zero respect from them, for yours.
If you are going to be late, let them know in advance, and offer apologies. I’ve sometimes waited over an hour for a scheduled meeting, only to be told they have to jump into another meeting and I should come back another day. The vendor’s time is not yours to waste. Showing appreciation for their time will mean that you can rightfully expect them to honour your timelines too.
2. If It’s No, Tell Them No
Vendors often have limited bandwidth – they can only provide a certain number of man hours for a designing service, or can only supply 50 flowers a day for your office. When you dangle the prospect of business, vendors will often hold their resources for you. If you’re unsure you want to partner with them, let them know. If you need more time, let them know.
If you don’t have the budgets or don’t want to work with them, let them know that too. Silence after you’ve asked for a proposal is not only unfair, it also sends out the message that you are as unpredictable as the British weather.
3. The First Impression Is Yours Too
Good vendors prepare for meetings and pitches, they offer everything they can to support your business, and they negotiate to fair rates. They work hard on a first impression. You should too.
Remember that if your vendor goes back thinking “what a horrible human being,” that’s going to be their attitude towards you forever. When you provide feedback, they will roll their eyes. When you ask for edits, they will curse under their breath. When you tell them to change the order or brief for the third time, they will pray Thor pay you a visit.
I’ve had a vendor complain to me about a senior resource she met for the first time. He sat opposite her to say – “right, let me sit here so I can intimidate you.” It literally solved no purpose, other than to make her think – “I hope karma blesses this man with a hundred nightmare customers tomorrow.”
4. Provide Good Briefs
Writing a good brief is the first step to a successful transaction. The importance of a well-defined brief cannot be emphasised enough. Give them all the information that they could possibly need, and then some. Vendors appreciate information, and they love clients who can treat them like part of the family by telling them relevant things.
Bad brief – I want 500 sheets for the copy room by tomorrow.
Good brief – I want A4, 300 GSM, white paper for the copy room delivered tomorrow by 2pm. 500 sheets required, in stacks of 50. Please deliver to Adam at the reception and email us the invoice. Also, we’ve initiated a no-plastic drive, so please deliver in reusable bags if possible!
5. Give Constructive Feedback
Often, clients don’t know exactly what they want – especially when it comes to creative services. A good vendor will work till the client is happy, but a good vendor will also defend their work. Imagine having a boss that simply says – “no, I don’t like it, do it some other way” without telling you why they don’t like it, or what you should be considering when doing the task.
That’s exactly how useless feedback can be to vendors, if you don’t tell them precisely what you’re thinking and why you want something changed. Value their opinions as well, they are your partners and you’re both working towards the same goal. I’ve been in instances where my boss has said – “that is a terrible design, tell the vendor to change the concept completely.” “Change the concept to what?” “I don’t know, tell them to do 4 other different concepts and then we’ll see.”
If you are not directly dealing with the vendor, putting your team member in an embarrassing spot to provide random feedback will prove disastrous – one hundred percent. The more likely scenario will be that you become the topic of chitchat while your subordinate and your vendor bond over a beer.
6. Pay Them On Time
There is just no excuse to delay payments to your vendors – especially the smaller ones who don’t always have reserves to pay their bills. Pay them on time. I’ve waited a hundred days once for feedback and payment from a client, and against my will had to write a rather demanding email for a small amount of money to be processed, albeit a hundred days late.
I’ve annoyed accounts teams to no end to process vendor payments – the excuse often being as silly as “haven’t gotten to it yet, tell them to wait I will process it next month.” Good vendors will leave you if you don’t pay them on time.
There Are Some Really, Really Bad Vendors
Having said all of this, we’ve all seen our share of unreliable, irresponsible vendors. Bad vendors can sometimes be a business’s undoing, especially in sensitive areas of work – accounting, taxation, edible raw material suppliers, PR agencies, garment producing factories with labour issues.
While multinational businesses have a thorough vendor vetting process and only select vendors that qualify all of their requirements, they also occasionally make judgement errors on whom to partner with. Nike and a number of garment brands have borne the brunt of it and given all of us (and John Oliver) eye-opening lessons you could never learn in a text book.
For small businesses, it is all the more important to interact with your vendor as you would a potential employee – check compatibility, sample work, and references. But when you do decide to work with them, treat them well!