Game Point for Customer Partnerships

4 Key Steps to Managing Vendor Customer Partnerships

Amber PiferOctober 26, 2017

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As a former division 1 athlete I often find myself reflecting on the preaching I experienced in the locker room and on the volleyball court.  Sure, the academic studies were important too, but they didn’t seem to consume my life as much as volleyball.  When you eat, sleep, and breathe a sport, it is easy to become engulfed in words you feel are the most critical to your team’s success.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

One particular lesson that was repeatedly conveyed to the team was all about the manner in which we finished our volleyball matches.  It was stressed to each of the players that it didn’t matter how well we played throughout each game.  If we didn’t play the final points to perfection, we had failed.  You could block incredibly well at the net, hit each ball with extreme precision, and dig every ball your opponent spiked; but if you made mistakes during the final points, that’s how you were going to be remembered.

I realize now how ridiculous this thought process is.  Is it better to do well most of the time and falter possibly only right at the end? Or come through only in the final hour after having done poorly most of the time?  I think most would agree that steady performance is preferred.  Make errors, do well, and keep the end goal in mind.

The same mantra holds true with relationships, both personally and professionally.  Powering through and finishing strong is a lesson I consider in every customer interaction and it stems from sound communication.  Vendors and customers will succeed the greatest when communication is constant, covering a broad spectrum of topics.

Relationships can’t only be strong when things are going well in business.  Sure, we all like getting on the phone and having a positive conversation about the manner in which things are running.  But we all know that life’s not perfect.  At the same time, communication should not only pick up when there are issues, say with product performance or the status of a project.  We’ve all had those conversations as well. Staying aware of overall relationship health should be ongoing, persistent, and honest.

Customer Partnerships

It’s worth noting that I continually speak of “customers and vendors,” but I admit that those words sting as I write them.  My goal, with any “customer” I support, is not to be seen as a vendor, but thought of as a partner. This doesn’t come overnight, but comes with following the relationship health notes both above and further below. I strongly believe that key customers and vendors will gain the greatest partnership when they are able to speak openly and transparently about the true pulse of the relationship’s inner workings.  This is established by following some of the following tips:

  1. Agree upon a regular frequency for connecting. I recommend not waiting longer than 1 month to connect, though many partnerships may require weekly, and at times, daily interactions if a big project is at stake.
  2. Establish an agenda to assist in the flow of conversation. Prioritize agenda items to ensure that critical issues are addressed first.
  3. Provide honest feedback at all times. Feedback should always be communicated in a business appropriate manner. It’s critical to realize that often times feedback may be resonating from other groups, resulting in both you and your contact acting as a liaison on behalf of your organization.
  4. True partners should always be aware of each other’s roadmaps. This can pertain to IT, business, etc. This will help ensure each party has appropriate expectations of the other, and will help align on common goals.

Fighting for the Chance

I realize that some relationships may never advance beyond “customer and vendor” status, but wherever possible I think those limits should be tested.  The next time you interact with a key customer or a key vendor, think about how the tips above might help your rapport.  More likely than not it will only strengthen what is already there.

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