There is no shortage of companies that tout the strength of their brand, the size of their company, and their financial or geographical stance. But, while these attributes may give you an edge, they won’t keep you in business with your valued customers.
In working for the past ten years with vendors of all capacities and sizes, I would never recommend continuing to work with a supplier based on the brand, the size, the location, the bottom line, or how many other big name companies they might do business with.
Sure, you clearly have the capabilities if you already have the business (unless needs change, then that’s a different story), but you also need responsive and collaborative communications; a proactive approach to offering solutions, roadmaps, and innovations; an eye for potential risks in your clients’ business; transparency, and a clear understanding of how client businesses are managed.
Without these capabilities, you’re going nowhere.
In my career in vendor management I have dealt with countless suppliers in all capacities, from insurance suppliers, call centers, travel and rewards platforms, payment processing, card plastics, credit alert products, software-as-a-service, hardware, and telecommunications – the list goes on and on.
I will always give referrals to my suppliers that provide the greatest service. Yes, it’s a sale and a negotiation, but above all it comes down to constant human interaction — it’s a relationship. The supplier-client relationship is vitally important, because we, as clients, entrust a large, often critical piece of our business to you to manage. Our customers don’t know you exist, so, in our eyes, you become part of our brand – you are part of the infrastructure supporting our brand. If we can’t get what we need from you or your service is poor then it hurts our brand.
Importance of Client Teams
There are numerous vendors that do exactly what you do, as well as selling a great service. While those suppliers may also be able to offer great pricing, my primary concern is always the client team and their delivery.
Other people in different areas of TD Bank have told me they can’t work with a certain supplier, yet my experience with them has been spectacular and I am referring this vendor to every other person in the industry.
What is the difference? It’s pure and simple – your client team. You have to find the top folks that will be at the forefront of your business when they are dealing with clients. It also means that you have to be willing to empower them to make key decisions and be able to get the answers for the client without going through 15 different people or 30 unnecessary processes.
Ultimately, suppliers must utilize the information they get from the best client teams and make sure all teams emulate that in order to gain repeat business and referrals.
Avoiding Negative Relationships
I have had more positive relationships than negative, but those negative experiences are never very far from my mind. After a negative experience, whenever I hear that particular vendor’s name mentioned again I will run a million miles away.
The vendors that earn themselves negative reputations are often the ones whose client team never truly understands their own internal processes or keeps them hidden away from their clients. This causes undue frustration by having such ambiguity. These vendors may take days to respond to emails or voice messages, and many conversations are pushed back when they can’t accommodate you, which leads to escalations. Nobody wants escalations — it’s like speaking to a loved one and never coming to an agreement; it’s painful and makes for a trepidatious relationship.
Your main account manager can be vital in avoiding this. No matter what you are supplying, he/she doesn’t need to be the top technical subject matter expert. Yes, they need to know your business, but the key attributes they need are being a go-getter with a positive, responsive personality and the ability to get things done. They may not have all the answers, but they know where to get them and are the greatest resource you can have for your business.
The one thing that suppliers need to take seriously and emulate throughout their enterprise is the quarterly, bi-annually or annual client surveys. You could be a massive company like Hewlett Packard, CGI or IBM and you are servicing countless clients of all sizes, but each of those clients has their own client team that works with them on a day to day basis…this is the differentiator. Full stop. Period. Do not proceed and start here!
As the great Bill Gates said:
How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.
Take your client surveys seriously, manage and use that information, and extensive relationships will ensue, followed by those ever-coveted referrals.