Partner vs. Vendor Mentality

Published by Alex Adamopoulos on Thursday, August 29, 2013 23:20

Why did you start your business? Why did you accept that role that you’re in now? Was it just the opportunity to make more money or was it also because you believe in doing that type of work, either as a business or employee? Chances are it’s a bit of both. Most professionals I speak with really enjoy their chosen vocation; they may not always enjoy the company they work for or the challenges that come with the role but they do enjoy the type of work and realizing the rewards that can come from it.

I’m starting this article in this manner because I want to establish the fact that we do what we do because “usually” it’s what we want to do for work and for many of us, we want to excel at our work and make it rewarding in ways beyond just the monetary kind.

This leads me to make some very specific statements on one of the most challenges areas of being in business and/or working as a professional that interacts with others each day in order to make the world go round; being viewed as a partner vs. a vendor.

One of the most useful tools I know of is the dictionary. Looking up the meaning of a word often sheds light on words we use regularly.

For example, the word “vendor” in the dictionary is defined as “a person or agency that sells”. Fair enough, that is a simple, straight forward definition. It makes complete sense and if you are someone who sells a product or service then being called a vendor is accurate.

The word “partner”, however means something a little different. Partner is defined as “a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor; often as it relates to risks and rewards”.

I don’t know of any company, services or product oriented, that specifically wants to be referred to as a vendor. Not that they would mind or even find the term incorrect or offensive. I imagine most like the idea of being referred to as a partner. Ultimately how strongly you feel about either word comes down to what your business model and culture is really all about. One references more of a transaction mind-set and one more of an involved, professional relationship. Unfortunately, in the corporate world, vendor tends to have a worse connotation than partner, often giving the perception of a company that “just wants to sell you something”.

Both terms are good. Both have their place. Both are often confused by the people that these companies try and sell to.

There are some good articles on the partner vs. vendor topic. I’m not looking to add another list of do’s and don’ts or differences between the two. Rather, I want to focus on the term partner and I want to do that so that the executives and managers that are involved in buying  products and services from companies that view themselves as partners can take notice and perhaps make the distinction that they are in a relationship with a partner.

Yes, partners still want to sell you something but they also want to develop a lasting relationship that they see value investing in to not only transact business together but to help both companies (yours and theirs) become better, more profitable and deliver more value to the ultimate customer, the buyer/user of their product or service. Sounds like motherhood and apple pie but truthfully, if you’re a company that has experienced this in speaking with prospects that don’t know or want to know the difference between the terms, then you fully appreciate what I’m attempting to articulate here.

What problem are we trying to solve? We want to be viewed by our clients and future clients as a partner oriented firm. We don’t want to just be classified as an approved vendor on the global list. We want to be a firm that constantly looks at ways to add value to our client relationships even if it means there is no immediate sale. We want to behave differently so that there is trust established early.

To do all this means we need to communicate to our clients and future clients how we operate and how we want the relationship to work.

  • It means being vulnerable and taking risks.
  • It means facing rejection since some people won’t want or care about partner vs. vendor.
  • It means saying no to some things instead of yes to most things.
  • It means not winning every deal

If you want to be viewed as a partner then it means qualifying them as much as they qualify you.

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