In a previous post Duality. Maintaining perspective I wrote about being cognizant of the fact that your vendors are just like you when you service your customers. I’d like to expand on this a bit more while picking on a fairly common buzzword in todays landscape.
A “buzzword” is a word that’s been abused by Marketing to the point of where it’s lost all meaning, or even worse, has established negative vibes to its meanings. Simon Sinek explains this well in one of his videos as he talks about how competition between businesses drives repetition (copy cats really) whereas competition with one self drives innovation (this is a vastly over simplified summary of his explanation between people running business as if its a Finite Game vs an Infinite Game). Simon mentions how you can get a dozen or more different toothpaste “types” of the brand Colgate that more or less all do the same thing and in the end its just toothpaste. Similarly a buzzword starts off with one company doing something and everyone else copying their marketing because they see how successful it is (not realizing the success is not just from marketing but also because of the real value provided).
In our case the word “Partner” was originally used by a company looking to differentiate the relationship difference that they establish, compared to the typical relationship companies would establish. It was rapidly picked up as the new word for “Vendor” since some Market Research deemed it something clients “preferred” and now almost everyone uses it, without actually establishing a true partnership.
Most definitions around the word “Partner” relate to marriage or a deep personal relationship, the legal definition of “Partner” focuses on two or more people or persons that are “joint principals in carrying on a business”. All definitions of all kinds always come back to the same point, “together”. I challenge anyone calling themselves a Partner to review that relationship and identify; the parties involved, and the level of action being taken by each party. Are all voices being heard equally? Is feedback being provided and addressed from all sides? Do conversations only end when all parties reach an agreement?
There are some companies that are Vendors that try to be partners, however the other party in that relationship has commitment issues and is only interested in a store front. A place to go to buy a resource that they can consume (either by using or reselling). As a Vendor you should be making sure to identify these specific “partners”. They absolutely will help you make money short term, but they will not help you become successful long term. Furthermore if one of your core values is Partnership, or anything similar to that, you would be working against that core value unless you have a plan to address the ones that fall below the line either through education or termination (remember a core value is what you ARE not what you WANT to be). While you might think that it’s just easy money, someone that pays you and doesn’t bother you too much, the reality is that likely they’re the ones who impact you in the most harmful ways you may not even realize. Your support queues are higher, their demand on your resources are more, and the morale impact is high as your employees every day see your core values are not upheld. If another core value is integrity and yet you don’t stand by your own core values that just undermines it further.
There are other Vendors that call themselves “Partners” but have never sat down with a Client to discuss needs, or have never delivered on any requests a Client has had about their product or platform. An agreement about pricing when making a sale does not make you a partner, it makes you good at closing deals. You are not working together to accomplish anything, you’re completing the sale transaction at the store checkout line. Clients who are in a relationship with vendors like these should understand the relationship in play and be aware of how it affects their own relationships with their clients. In the above referenced post, I talk about how its unreasonable to expect something from someone you yourself cannot provide. This goes even further the other way, a company cannot possibly uphold expectations for their Clients if the Vendors in their supply chain are unable to meet those same expectations. This is literally how supply and demand works.
If you are a Client and are interested in being a Partner with your Vendor, it’s very easy to tell if the Vendor is willing and able to sustain that kind of relationship. The only thing you have to do is provide feedback. Vendors who are actively trying to be a good “Partner” will suck that feedback up in any way you can provide it. Constant feedback from you will put you on their map and they’ll start coming back to you for more and more and if they’re really good you’ll be asked to join their Advisory Council for Product Management, Product Development, or even Company or Product Vision. You must provide feedback first for this to happen, even at the busiest times taking the extra moment to send that feedback will pay itself back eventually.
Providing feedback does not just help the Vendor and their product, by telling them what you want you are ensuring their product works better for you and will always meet your needs. The time you invest may seem a waste initially but the relationship you maintain with them is marketable to your clients and allows you to guarantee faster response times, preferential treatment to you and your clients needs (feature requests) and potentially new business opportunities if the situation comes up (for both you and your vendor). This is the definition of a true partnership.
If your Vendors aren’t looking to be partners then you need to assess if the risk is low enough that they can maintain a “store” relationship or if the services they are providing are too integral to your business and that you need a true symbiotic relationship. If your business depends on their service then they should be partners! You should be sending feedback and they should be listening to it. It’s the only way you can work with that company to maintain your own companies success and ensure they won’t do anything that would negatively impact your business! I cannot stress enough how important it is to maintain that constant feedback stream, even more so, there are times Vendors who are eager for that partner relationship have many ideas on what to do with their product or platform but do not know if what they’re planning will impact you or even if it will be a positive impact or negative impact. Even sending off a quick message of encouragement, or blurb about an annoying checkbox that slows you down is valuable to help guide their product team on your requirements so they can help ensure your success through continued use of their products.
Finally, as mentioned in the beginning about my earlier post, we are just two sides of the same coin. Our interactions with our clients, and interactions with our vendors should be the same that we would expect or want to have on each end. We should be Partners to our Clients and our Clients will be Partners to us providing us the feedback we need to succeed which allows us to provide the feedback our Vendors need for their success, all of us working as partners in one big Community within the cycle of supply and demand helping everyone collectively improve together. The true definition of Partnership.