Sourcing Partnerships Require Clients to Build Teams, not Islands

Renate Cunneen advises buy-side clients on how to develop stronger vendor relationships from the outset, and how to avoid unnecessarily deteriorating the partnership.

build teams

During the 12 years I have spent managing vendors, I have seen one fatal mistake occur repeatedly.

Segmented teams within the client business will often not heed the recommendations that a vendor has given them from the outset — such as aggressive timelines or best practices leveraged from other implementations with similar clients — which is the catalyst for the initial deterioration of the relationship.

As clients, of course we pay our vendors to do a job, perform a service, and manage part of our business, but this doesn’t let us off the hook, nor does it give us the ability to always point fingers at our external partners when things go awry.

We talk a lot about “partnership” but, so often, we as clients use this word when the mood strikes, or when the vendor has done some amazing thing for us, often reverting to the word “vendor” when we feel less than happy with their performance.

Without a finger on the pulse in a day-to-day manner, the relationship deteriorates. Project teams are busy executing, executives are busy approving business cases and next steps, but no one in that beginning phase is dedicated to the relationship.

The issue here is that negotiating a contract and passing it off once the project is in “business as usual”(BAU) status serves no one particularly well, primarily the organization—it’s one step forward and two steps back.

Governance written into a contract without execution is just words on a page, often a contract will be in existence for nearly a year before it’s passed over to the vendor team pre-BAU status. A lot of heartache can be avoided by having a vendor management SME at the table, because the relationship building must start from the beginning, not from one year into a three- or five-year contract.

The more you engage with your vendors the more you will get out of them. Trust must be built immediately to drive home the expectations that were previously outlined in the contract.

Clients hire these folks to help us in our businesses every day, trusting them with our most precious possession, but then why do we not listen to them when they try to give us clear feedback on our own shop?

Part of growth in human beings and in business is listening to what you may be missing in yourself that someone else can see from the outside. Growth is hearing what we don’t really want to hear, accepting it, facing it and making the real attempts to change it. Maybe there are cracks in your own business that the vendor can clearly see from the outside; why wouldn’t you want this type of feedback? Above all, how many vendors will give you this feedback? Many won’t if there is not a level of trust where they feel comfortable enough to share candid feedback. That in itself is a tragedy.

Yes, we are paying our vendors to perform a service, but if we started to listen to them with an unbiased mind I believe it would help grow our capabilities on both sides of the fence. From this approach, perhaps will emerge more innovation, savings, and consistency in our day to day dealings.

What if, in your personal life, your partner always treated you with mistrust, secrecy, and even disdain at times? Even thinking about that for a moment will quickly answer your question. Partnerships in business are affected in the same manner. A relationship that is exposed to that type of treatment will deteriorate very quickly over time.

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When one party feels like the rug could be pulled out from underneath them at any moment it breaks down the partnership to a place of pain and mistrust leading to blocked communication built out of fear and resentment. The final result is a relationship with a lack of trust and a lack of good will, leading only to a stalemate of communication.

Once communication ceases it’s a long road to breathe life back into it.

Listen to your vendors, hear what they’re telling you about your business, after all, we chose to pay them to show us the best practices. Heck, if we could do it all ourselves why would we choose to outsource the business?

Do you need more resources? Is there a lack of accountability, processes, or follow-through? Is your vendor telling you something is too aggressive or not aggressive enough?

Talk to your vendors, shine a light on what they do well and don’t just criticize on the low points.

As I have been the client for almost the entirety of my career, what I feel helps me stand above in terms of managing relationships in business is my ability to see both sides of the street, to hold my own team accountable and to make sure we have our business in order before I start pointing fingers at our external partners.

Outsourcing components of business is primary to many of us and getting the most out of those relationships is what we all strive towards. Keeping your eyes open to become highly adept at recognizing the changes needed in your own business, while still managing your partnerships with clear governance, respect, and communication is the key to a long and successful partnership.

Partnership has to be consistent in the commitment to work together to succeed, so build teams, not islands.

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