08 Jan 2018

The Fidget Spinner of Vendor Relationships – Give it a spin!

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Written by Anish BetawadkarCo-Authored with Dr. Preetam Tiwari

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Have you ever wondered what is the similarity between marriages and vendor relationships? What a weird question indeed! But let me further elaborate.

So once you are married, what options do you have?

It was supposed to be a funny beginning and nothing else! Don’t think wild!

Been over 17 years I am married and each passing year has been bringing the best out of our relationship. It is a mutual effort and we both assume the responsibility. Working with vendors is no different! Just that you get the liberty to marry more than one at a time and also have the liberty to date multiple vendors simultaneously! Haha. 🙂

Being on the Vendor side for the majority of my life, I wanted to share some insights. See…I got married when I was 22 (no kidding!), the same age when I started working. So my work experience and experience at work are the same, so all the the more reasons to share insights, right? 🙂

I have seen the making and breaking of Customer-Vendor relationships. Some of them sucked from the beginning and continued that way. Many started weak and improved over time. Some (very, very, very few) were made for each other kinds. But, I know for sure that if basic hygiene of a relationship is in place, any relationship can be made successful. Remember what I said? it’s a mutual effort. So what gets you going with your Vendor? And more than that, what brings the best out of him? The Fidget Spinner!

The Fidget Spinner of Vendor Relationships:

1. Understand Culture: Whether it’s marriage or a new vendor engagement, we need to know how they are culturally brought up.

What is their attitude towards work? You surely need somebody who is proactive, takes ownership, says they messed up when they do, and are willing to stretch their capability as the situation demands.

What are their beliefs/customs and how they map with yours? For you family comes first but for them, work may take priority. I know a friend of mine who continued working, sending emails, and statuses for an hour after getting to know that his wife delivered a baby. Maybe because saying no is disrespectful in their culture and being open and candid is respected in yours.

Understanding culture gets you set up and ready to work together. Know that you cannot make any changes. This just helps you understand what to expect when things go wrong or right.

2. Plan to succeed: We never get married to get divorced! We get married and then give our best to make it work. The same is with Vendors.

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  • Once you have enough data with you, what will get the best out of your Vendor partner is, planning! Planning for work and planning for deliverables helps set common ground with respect to productivity.
  • Having a ‘Plan to succeed’ essentially demands a plan considering the strengths and weaknesses of your vendor. If the plan compromises your business objective, surely there is an issue with vendor selection. However, assuming you have the right vendor, plan to his strengths. Somebody who delivers under pressure will need shorter and loaded milestones. For somebody whose strength is to deliver consistently every day, longer and relaxed milestones will be better.
  • Plan to progress the relationship to be more dependable. How can you empower your vendor more? How can he take more ownership? His ownership will help you focus on your goals/strategic objectives. Historically, for all new engagements that I used to start, I had an engagement roadmap for a year. The initial phase used to focus on team setup, and simpler work, the later phase would focus on medium complex enhancement to the software platform/product and the third phase would push my team to deliver complex work. This worked beautifully every time.

3. Communicate to Understand: Do I have to say I love you? yes, you bet.

  • Know that some people need to be told, some understand on their own and few never understand. Whichever category it is, at least during the initial phase – Over-communicate! Did you notice? Communication isn’t optional!
  • Over-communication won’t hurt. It allows identifying risks early. It helps bridge those cross-cultural sensitive areas.
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  • I remember years back I had a team responsible to handle “opt-out” email communication. One of their jobs was to “forward” opt-out requests to another email id for further processing. So if they get 10 emails in a week, all need to be sent to another email id. Whoever is responsible at the other end, would do the needful to opt-out the email id. This team kept forwarding repeat emails from the same person who was radically pissed for not getting opted out. 🙂 My team did what it was supposed to do but still failed!
  • Be clear with what is expected, timelines, what is negotiable and non-negotiable.
  • Lastly, appreciate. Language of appreciation is heard and received well across ALL the cultures.

4. Celebrate

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  • Believe it or not, celebrating success is crucial to take your Vendor partnerships to the next level. When you celebrate with them or include them in your celebration, you transpose vendor relationship to a Partnership.
  • Celebrate periodically. Set a frequency for celebration. These are pit-stops where you analyze and assess successes/failures and learn from them.

The best Vendor relationship is that which turns into a Partnership. The partner ensures his interests align with the other partner’s interests. His success is closely aligned with other partner’s success.

To bring the best out of any vendor, push through and direct the relationship to be the “Partnership” than a “Vendor” relationship. I have been using my fidget spinner of relationship to do it