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The Power of Partnerships: How To Build Relationships With Suppliers

By Wes Friesen

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
—Helen Keller

Want to be a more successful leader? Want your team to be even more successful? Then you and I need to tap into the power of business partnerships with others that can help. Steve Jobs was right on the mark when he said, “Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” Let’s take a look at maximizing our partnerships with two key sets of business partners: Internal Service Providers and External Vendors (aka Suppliers).

Internal Service Providers: Our Valuable Internal Partners

Internal service providers include all the staff functions that provide services that benefit us and our parent organizations. Examples of internal service providers include Purchasing, IT, Human Resources, Finance and Accounting, Legal, Facility Management, Corporate Communications among others. The level of support from these internal partners can make or break the success of our operations. How do we ensure we get the optimal support we need to have us and our teams excel? Following are five key tips:

1) Promote the “same team” mindset. Our operational teams and the internal service providers all work for the same parent organization. We can coalesce around the common Vision, Mission and Values of the organization, and realize that our mutual success requires us to work together effectively. Sometimes we may need to explain to providers how helping operations excel will ultimately benefit them and the entire organization.

For example, my teams have pursued a variety of cost initiatives such as maximizing postal discounts that with the help of internal partners have saved our parent company millions of dollars over the years. Saving money benefits our company’s customers, shareholders and employees, a true win-win-win!

2) Build positive relationships. I have previously written about the 3 Rs approach to building great relationships. The 3 Rs include Recognizing people for the value they add; Respecting people for who they are; and Rewarding people in tangible and intangible ways. One example of recognizing and rewarding internal partners is to provide pizza or other food to providers that have helped you (everybody loves the “f” word – food!). On an individual level, a thank you e-mail to a person who has helped you with a copy to their boss is always greatly appreciated!

3) Ask for help. I have found that when I ask for help from an internal provider I almost always have received a positive response and great assistance. When we humble ourselves and ask for help almost everybody will feel honored and respected, and if we already have a positive relationship the path has been paved. Asking for help leads into the next tip—acknowledge their expertise.

4) Acknowledge their expertise. Service provider professionals have often earned college degrees and/or professional certifications and have developed expertise within their chosen field. Acknowledging the hard work and knowledge they have gained shows proper respect. And when people are respected they tend to rise to the occasion and live up to the positive expectations placed on them.

5) Help internal providers whenever we can. A healthy partnership is a two-way street, built on mutual respect, trust and support. There are times when a service provider needs help from us to do their jobs well. For example, the finance and accounting team sometimes needs our support when developing budgets, forecasts and understanding variances. As operational managers we are busy with our own tasks, but we should always try to be very responsive to financial processes, timeframes and questions. They appreciate the support, and when we need their help we will reap what we have sown.

Vendors: Our Valuable External Business Partners

Bill Gates (co-founder and CEO of Microsoft) shared, “Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning.” I have found that to be true and have been blessed to have had great relationships and support from many vendors over the years. Some people view vendors as necessary adversaries—I view vendors as necessary and valuable business partners. By developing valuable partnerships we can benefit by gaining reasonably priced goods and services, keep up with the latest technology and best practices, and receive strong support to maximize our success. Following are seven valuable tips to help maximize our partnership with our vendors:

1) Develop a “win-win” mindset. In a healthy vendor relationship both the vendor and the business being served come out ahead and gain value. I and other operational managers have found that a good vendor can add significant value above what we can accomplish alone. Vendors can provide a range of goods and services more efficiently and cost effectively than we can ourselves. Vendors can provide helpful advice to help us excel, and can step up and provide the extra support we need when unexpected problems occur.

2) Build positive relationships. The 3 Rs approach (Recognize, Respect, and Reward) mentioned previously applies. Vendor account managers often receive little positive recognition from their customers. Some of my fondest memories are times when my Supervisors and I showed appreciation for an account manager. For example, an account manager named Brian came in on a week-end to help correct a problem on a server so that we could get our work done that Monday.

The department Supervisor and I were very appreciative, and that following week we met with Brian and in addition to verbal thanks handed him a framed certificate of appreciation and a gift card. Brian was choked up—and said this was the first time in his long career that a customer had shown him this level of appreciation. Priceless.

One tool to consider for your key vendors is to mutually build a Vendor Scorecard. The Vendor Scorecard could cover a few key metrics from your contract and/or Service Level Agreement (SLA) where you can provide a rating (e.g. exceeds expectations, meets expectations, or not meet expectations) and relevant feedback. This scorecard could cover a quarter, six month period or a year.

Another suggestion is to have a regular periodic meeting with your key vendors (perhaps quarterly). At this meeting you can review the vendor scorecard, and have two-way sharing and feedback. The sharing time can include covering what you are hoping to accomplish in the days ahead, and asking the vendor to share ideas and feedback for us.

3) Pay our bills on time. Vendors have a business to run like we do. Paying our bills on time and following all the terms and conditions in our contracts is fair and the right thing to do. Treating our vendors like we hope to be treated is a good standard that leads to mutual respect and trust.

4) Explain our Vision and Goals. Why explain our Vision and Goals to vendors? By doing so we provide opportunity for them to offer ideas and assistance to help us accomplish our ambitions. Vendors often have other customers that may have similar goals as us—and vendors often have a range of goods and services that can help us be successful.

5) Find out what the vendor needs from us. Helping the vendor be successful is good for them and us. We can maximize the relationship with our vendors by asking them what they need from us, then providing it. Vendors appreciate the spirit of partnership and mutual support and will reciprocate when needed.

6) When mistakes happen, don’t point fingers. Mistakes happen and are part of being human. In a healthy vendor relationship mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities, and provide the basis for improving our future operations and performance. Promptly remedying the mistake is important, and then having a good dialogue to decipher lessons learned is also valuable. We can then move forward to improve processes and controls to avoid recurrence of this mistake and other potential related mistakes.

7) Refer a trusted vendor to others. Vendors obviously appreciate being referred to other potential customers and that will enhance our relationship with the vendor and our peer operational managers. Word of mouth referrals are a real win-win for the vendor, us, and the peers that may end up using the vendor. Many of the vendors my teams have used over the years were a result of an endorsement by a trusted peer.

Bill Richardson wisely exhorted, “We cannot accomplish all that we need to do without working together.” Let’s take that advice to heart as we intentionally work well with our internal and external business partners, and enjoy the mutual success that follows!

Wes can be contacted at wesmfriesen@gmail.com or at 971-806-0812.

About the Author: Wes Friesen is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams. He is also an accomplished University Instructor and Speaker and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management and team building training.

His book, Your Team Can Soar! Powerful Lessons to Help You Lead and Develop High Performing Teams has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you—and your team—soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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