Partner or Vendor? There is a difference.

I spent 20 years of my career on the client-side. I hired agencies, consultants and contractors. I signed service agreements and licensed software solutions and worked with all sorts of people and companies to help my businesses grow. To me, these relationships were strategic partnerships, not vendor agreements. I treated each person as a friend, colleague and peer, not as a faceless vendor. It’s such a crappy word and sounds like a vending machine where you put the money in and something magically comes out. Believe me, as a vendor, the money doesn’t always go in and it takes way more than the push of a button to get results pumped out.

When I started my business five years ago, I didn’t set my sights on being a vendor. I set out to be a strategic partner to help companies create new ways to grow. As I engage with each client, I never think of myself as just a vendor and, maybe my expectations are way to high, but I prefer to be treated like a person with value to add, ideas to share and work to get done.

I had to write this post to remind my friends on the client-side that vendors are different from partners. Vendors have no faces or feelings. They’re like a vending machine serving up snacks when you pay. Partners are people with talent, faces and feelings. They are in the trenches with you and saddle-up to help your business grow.

In the services business, we are in the proposal business. Proposals are not churned out. They are customized and take time and, we all know, time = money. When a potential client asks us to a prepare a scope of work, here’s what happens. We typically spend at least an hour on the phone or in-person understanding your challenges, then behind the scenes, hours researching your company, reviewing your website, assessing your social media and content production, looking at competitors and a myriad of other indicators to give me the best picture possible of who you are, what you need and how we can help. So, when you say you need help, I will do everything I can to turn something around quickly to help you. All I ask in return is one thing: Be straight with me.

Recently, a potential client needed help with some work to gather customer insights on some new products. We had a great chat, I was asked to put a proposal together and set a deadline for getting that over to them. The following day, they came back to me saying they need proposal asap so the work could start asap so it could be ready for the board meeting in 3 weeks (aka asap). Are you seeing the trend? Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. The scope of work was at least a 10 week project but I went to work looking for a way to meet the deadline in 3 weeks. I assembled my team, pulled together a detailed estimate and a schedule and found a way to do the project to meet their timeline. I worked for hours estimating and figuring out how to make it happen. I sent the proposal to them the same day and called my contact to let him know it was in his inbox. He said he’d review asap and then get back to me. Then…nada. They went dark. Ghosted. Really? I followed-up the next day with an email and a call and nothing. It’s frustrating, perplexing and completely rude. This experience reminded me that I have no desire to be a vendor or to be treated as such, so it wasn’t a good fit anyhow.

Being an entrepreneur requires thick skin. I have to dust myself off and keep moving forward. I can’t take things personally and have to continually remind myself that business is business. After experiences like this, I start to wonder if I’m getting soft or expecting too much of people or being overly sensitive. The reality is that the services business is a lot like dating (which thank god I don’t have to do anymore) – it’s not always going to be a match and situations change, but at least have the courtesy to say so. If you’re not picking up what I’m putting down, no hard feelings. Just let me know so we can both move on. Easy, right?

My mom always said “treat people the way you want them to treat you” and I now tell my kids the same sage advice.

Be human. Be kind. Be honest. And, respect the people that are trying to help you. One day you just might need them.

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