Vendor vs Partner. Which one do you want?

One of the challenges that I face on a daily basis is the complacency among clients with keeping relationships strictly on a vendor/client basis. What causes that complacency can be a number of things, but my experience illuminates two of the most common reasons.

First, it’s just what they’re used to. Catherine DeVrye, Australian Woman of the Year, best-selling author, and global speaker on service quality and change has stated that the 7 most expensive words in business are: “We have always done it that way!”. She could not be more right. In the age of technology and rapid change, what you did 10, 5, even 2 years ago isn’t always going to work the same way and, most likely is no longer the best, most complete solution. When working to solve a long-term problem that is constantly changing, how can you expect a static, rigid solution to solve the immediate needs as well as your modified needs in 3 years? The static solution may be the base for the long-term solution, but in order to adapt to your changing needs, the solution needs to be ductile and adaptable as well.

The second reason is more an extension of the first; clients simply don’t know that partners exist. They are so inundated with people wanting to sell them and then move on until the next sale. Vendors want to close the deal as fast as possible and move on.

Before I continue, let’s consider the definitions:

Vendor: noun

  1. A person who sells things- especially on the street
  2. A business that sells a particular type of product
  3. A vending machine

Partner: noun

  1. A person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits
  2. One of two people who do something together or are closely involved in some way


I strongly feel that the majority of people strive for partnerships in all areas of their personal lives. Let me paint you a word picture.

Take your most common street vendor: the hot dog cart. Now, you may see this as a strict vendor/client relationship. If done correctly, however, this could be so much more. Most hot dog vendors use the same brand of hot dogs, buns etc. Let’s imagine that there are two vendors on the same corner. On the surface, it doesn’t matter which you choose, so maybe you choose the one with the shorter line. The hot dog is good; it fills the void. You go back.

As time goes on you notice that the other vendor always has a longer line. You start to wonder why. You finally decide to investigate. You wait in line and when you get up to order you notice dozens of different types of ketchup and mustard. You ask the vendor for your favorite- Sir Kensington’s Spicy Ketchup. He agrees that it’s delicious but unfortunately he doesn’t have it. Now, a vendor would let this go and sell you a hot dog with another ketchup that will get the job done. Instead, the guy says “If you promise to buy hot dogs from me 3 times a week, I will buy and always have Sir Kensington’s Spicy Ketchup on hand for you.” Now you begin to understand why the line was so long. You realize that all of those condiments are on hand because this vendor has made this agreement with dozens, if not hundreds of people. This is no mere vendor- this is a partner. And with the way people feel about their food, I’d say he is a valued partner who can expect long-term relationships.

Go one step further and imagine 3 weeks later the vendor- now partner, notices that you haven’t been finishing your hot dog. He mentions this to you and asks how he can help. You tell him you’re just tired of getting the same thing all the time. He says he was just turned on to a new, artisan ketchup and suggests you try it. He also suggests that you try balancing the heat of the ketchup by adding the slightly sweet Stonewall Kitchen’s Maple Bacon Aioli. “If you don’t like it, I will get you something else at no charge”, he says. You excitedly order a hot dog with the new condiments and your mind is blown! Who knew life could be this good?! You can wait to order lunch tomorrow and now you know who has the inside scoop on all your specialty condiment needs.

Now, it may seem silly, but this is a perfect example of what I deal with every day. People I call on are used to a vendor, and I operate as a partner. A key differentiation can be boiled down to one key concept: vendors are concerned with price; partners are concerned with value.

Imagine you walk into the break room at work and you overhear a coworker arguing with the vending machine company because they would like to get the bag of chips for 30% less than what it’s priced at in the machine. You’d think that person was nuts- and most likely a jerk. It’d be laughable. So why would you expect the same from a business partner? You wouldn’t. We aren’t talking about purchase orders here!

Treating an external partnership as if it were a PO is a horrible mistake and leaves money and value on the table.

If you remember nothing else from this tirade, remember this:

If you chose a vendor over a partner, you will pay twice.

You will pay for the initial services, and you will pay a second, opportunity cost with the money you miss out on by not having a partner-placed plan that is focused yet dynamic.

A few questions to help define your relationships:

  • Does your contact reach out regularly to review and discuss your ROI?
  • If your vendor makes a mistake, do they take ownership and bring it to your attention to let you know they will be fixing it immediately?
  • Does your contact tell you no? Have they or would they advise you to buy another product because theirs might not be ideal with your current makeup of resources?
  • Does your vendor tell YOU when something isn’t working as well as it could be? Do they then work with you to find something that will get the results you need?
  • Do you ask them for help? or do you ask them for product?
  • When you have a question or an issue, does your contact have time for you? Or are your directed to a customer service queue?

If you answered no to most of these questions, you are working with a VENDOR.

Now, it’s a simple question: Which should you prefer? Should you make decisions based on price, or based on the value of a resource? If you answered price, then you want a vendor and you either own a vending machine company, sports stadium, or are in denial about how modern businesses thrive. If you said value, you need to be working with a true partner.

The truth is, everyone relies on partners in all areas of life. So why are we so against having the conversation when it comes to business?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s