Vendor relationships: Creating partnerships that matter

Today, direct marketing is more complex than ever before. It is dangerous to presume that anyone knows everything they need to know about all aspects of a multifaceted, integrated fundraising program.

But skilled, sophisticated campaigns are possible – IF vendors become partners, bringing their deep and specific knowledge (about printing, about lettershops, about inserting, about digital development) into a united collaboration.

Can you come to trust the vendors you’ve been using in the traditional, limited style? You can – if you create true partnerships.

Some agencies think the vendor relationship begins with the bid and ends with the bill, but nothing could be further from the truth. Like any relationship, the ones with your vendors areimportant elements in your – and your clients’ – success. With a foundation built on proficiency, trust, fairness and mutual respect, you can build a strong partnership that will positively impact every aspect of your organization.

Tip #1: Beware the cheapest bid.

While the dollar may be the bottom line, you can’t afford the least-expensive services if they come with the hefty price tag of errors and ineptitude. Your goal is to find the most competent and knowledgeable vendor to serve your needs and meet your budget at the end of the job – not just in the planning stages. Finding that skilled vendor is important. Keeping that vendor is critical.

Tip #2: If you want to trust them, you have to trust them.

A vendor is hired for a reason – their abilities. Now let them do what they do best! Be brave – let them guide you. You don’t have to completely let go of the reins, but micro-managing only causes friction. Remember: your vendor is the expert. Use his knowledge to gather a more in-depth understanding of your own business, and let his expertise guide you in making the best choices to meet your goals.

Tip #3: Give as good as you want to get.

Fairness is paramount to a positive vendor relationship. If you want the highest quality work, be fair. Don’t ask for impossibly short turn-around times, don’t expect progress when you haven’t provided everything your vendor needs, don’t demand unrealistically low costs. You might force a vendor to come through once – but you won’t create that long-term partnership that you want and need. Keep lines of communication open, share information and priorities. Create a sense that you are in a partnership with your vendor… because you are!

Ultimately, partnerships with key vendors should be based on mutual respect. Understand the value on the other side of the table and realize that as you measure their performance, your vendor is measuring yours.

Tip #4: Take care of business

Be a good customer by paying your bills on time, sharing your priorities, giving adequate lead time and being honest in information sharing. Your vendor is running a business, too, and respectful interaction runs two ways.

A well-managed vendor relationship expands your knowledge and skills; your partners make you stronger. You don’t have to know how to do everything yourself if you know who to depend on. There’s nothing more valuable than increased customer satisfaction, reduced costs, higher quality and better service. Nurture your important vendor relationships often and take the time to appreciate those who serve your business best.