How to Build Effective Vendor-Client Relationships (Two Sides of the Customer Service Coin)

As busy entrepreneurs, we’re always focused on how we can improve our customer service so our best clients become loyal advocates. But what about when we need to outsource a project? What qualities should we look for in a good, reliable vendor, and how do we build a solid relationship? And how can we make sure we’re treating our clients right? That’s why we’re bringing you a two-part series all about the Two Sides of the Customer Service Coin. In this post, we’ll give you some tips on how to work with and treat vendors. You’ll learn how to choose a vendor and get the most out of your vendor-client relationships.

Our second post will explore how to treat clients right – all those little (and big!) details that will help you build trust with your clients, make you indispensable to them, and set your customer service apart from the competition’s.

Let’s dive in.

Treating Vendors Right

Ask yourself what you need

Before you start your search for a vendor, you’ll want to figure out what you want from this new relationship. Think about the qualities and characteristics that matter most to you and your current project. Quality, personal service and effectiveness are probably three of your most important Key Performance Indicators, while others could be cost or availability. Which boxes must your ideal vendor tick?

Doing your homework at this stage will pay off because it will prevent you spending time considering wrong or unqualified vendors. Once you understand what you need, you can begin tapping your network and other sources for vendors who fit your profile.

Choose a reliable, relationship-oriented supplier focused on customer service

The best relationships take planning, and your vendor-client relationships are no different. There may be many exceptional vendors serving your industry or niche, but you need to find the one that will best serve you, your process and your requirements.

Here at Any Old Task, we’ve found our best vendor experiences are with companies and independent contractors who want to build relationships. They’re there to help us solve problems and are part of the extended network that helps make our business run smoothly. Not only were they more than willing to work with us years ago, as we’ve grown they’ve scaled with us! We’ve become a repeat customer to many, because they provide stellar service we know we can rely on day in, day out. Those are truly the best relationships because they’re mutually beneficial and save everyone time, money and frustration.

Onboard your vendors

As both a vendor and a client, we can’t stress how vitally important your onboarding process is. We know you’ve formalized your onboarding process for new clients (right?), but what about any outside vendors whose services you use?

Just like your client onboarding process, the goal of your vendor onboarding process should be to explicitly set expectations for both parties before any work is completed. Your process may include establishing one point of contact in your company who manages day-to-day relationships with vendors. You’ll also need to put your work process in writing and any relevant information your vendor will need about your company’s services, timelines or requirements. If you’re hiring a vendor for a project, that project needs to be clearly defined, with your role and the vendor’s role identified, and how the two will intersect. What will you require from your vendor? How will you evaluate the relationship, and the services they provide?

Don’t forget to include practicalities like how and when they can reach you, and who they should consult with on any questions, concerns or problems.

Communicate effectively

Once you’ve done all the pre-project work of finding and onboarding a vendor, now it’s time to get down to business! Effective communication is as important when you’re in the midst of the project as it is when you’re searching for your ideal vendor.

One of Any Old Task’s best vendors is Barker Social, a digital marketing services firm we’re proud to call our partner – managing partner Mandi Gould does amazing work and truly has a passion for helping all of her customers. One of the reasons our relationship works is that it’s based on mutual respect. I always assume she’s doing her best and treat her with kindness. While I’m firm when needed, I make requests, not demands. If something doesn’t work for me, I explain why and allow her time to repeat back any changes I might need so we establish a mutual understanding of expectations on both sides.

Broken down like this it sounds a bit cold; the reality is we have warm, real, honest, respectful, fun, and friendly communication with an emphasis on being clear, concise, and kind.

Your vendor should be aware of any factors that impact your project, so if timelines, expectations, launch dates or other milestones change, you need to communicate these explicitly, in writing, so your needs and priorities can be met. When it comes to managing vendor-client relationships, there’s rarely a danger in over-communicating! If yours is a large, ongoing project, set regular dates for the two of you to check in on progress and changes.

Be an accessible, enthusiastic, considerate client

Remember your ideal client profile – the document you put together to define the type(s) of clients you most want to work with? Now, your task is to be an ideal client. That means taking responsibility for your side of the successful client-vendor relationship and exemplifying all those qualities you look for in your own clients.

You know it’s easier to get excited about your clients’ projects if they’re pumped and excited to get started. Let that enthusiasm shine and follow it up with action – that means sticking to important deadlines, keeping your commitments and showing up to critical meetings. Delegate project management to a team member if you don’t have the time to dedicate, procure additional resources, or postpone the project until you can dedicate the time it deserves.

In short, treat your vendors how you’d like to be treated. This also means:

  • Making sure you follow your vendor’s policies and meet their expectations
  • Pay on time (or better yet, promptly after you receive an invoice)
  • Consider sending a thank you note or posting a testimonial for a job well done that exceeded your expectations

Conclusion: Remember the golden rule of vendor-client relationships

Now that you’re the customer, the keys to building a great vendor relationship are empathy and mutual respect.

From the first time you contact a vendor until you wrap up your project (or sign a contract to retain them), remember this golden rule: do unto your vendor as you would have your vendor do unto you.

Have you hired vendors in the past? What did you learn from the experience? What will you change this time? Tell us in the comments!

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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