How to make a Client-Vendor Engagement a win-win for both?

21st century is the century of knowledge workers; it is the age of collaboration of highly specialized skills. To operate effectively in this scenario we need to evolve ourselves from traditional Client-Vendor relationship to a more collaborative engagement. In this respect some points has been listed down to ensure the success and evolution in the client-vendor engagement

A. Key Elements to Success:

  • Mutual Respect: When you make a commitment to a vendor, you are then committing an expert whose time and effort will be dedicated in your project. If you don't intend to use their services, then do not take up their time.. You are doing yourself and that vendor a false promise of work if the project is not imminent.
  • Professionalism: Treat your vendors with the same respect as you would expect for yourself. Vendors have taken years to become experts in their field and deserve the respect that comes with that tenor. It's a small world! Recognize that the image you portray to your vendors is a direct reflection on your company. If you are unprofessional about returning phone calls or providing feedback, this is not only a reflection of your own unprofessional behavior, but casts a shadow over the company as a whole. ( we are not referring to unsolicited cold calls.)
  • Stressful Situations: "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." I love this saying, and it is very true. Do not let a stressful situation be an excuse for poor business manners. Do not contact your vendors and speak to them in any manner or tone that you would not want used towards yourself. Keep in mind that you are responsible for your behavior, and the simple fact that you are paying someone for their work on a project does not give you free rein to treat them in a disrespectful manner no matter how much stress you may be under. This mutual respect will solidify your relationship and ensure a solid vendor relationship.

B. Communicate, communicate, and communicate

Avoid lack of structure in your approach of dealing with the vendor. Be very specific and lucid. Avoid too many words while talking/ writing emails. Use thorough and structured documentation to communicate the work-detail/ activities and tasks/ owners and timelines. Effective and timely Communication is the key. 90% of a project manager's time is spent in communication.

Know your vendors well. Communicate with them at the same wavelength. For example, a software developer will not have the same maturity as the Head of Operations/ CEO at the vendor-site.. Projects often depend on vendors and supplier team members to provide services. The nature of the client-vendor relationship emphasizes mutually beneficial goals. However, the vendor doesn't always prioritize the client's interests as heavily as their own. Clients will always try to maximize services at a minimal cost while vendors are motivated to increase costs for additional services.

In a challenged project with strained vendor relationships, it becomes even more important to focus on the critical issues to work together and deliver the end goal.

C. Win-win situation

Vendor-Client engagement is team coordination. While you point out issues and raise concerns you also help them with possible solutions that will help the vendor overcome the problem/ deliver better performance. This will enable the vendor to be more open with you, and you will get more insight into their strengths and opportunities.

Typically, in my case, I make myself part of the solution in resolving change-requests by contributing in technical discussions including database modification, designing, and code-logic. This also gives me a better hold of what’s happening; gives me insight into how the vendor works; his efficiency and commitment levels etc. The better you understand the technology, the better you can manage the service delivery and manage the project.

D. Think, Think, Think. Manage Risk before it occurs

Ask effective questions and make people think too. This is the best risk management strategy. For this you have to have a complete hold and insight into the business and deliverables; the strengths and weaknesses. The ability to foresee risks is a key success factor in order to be able to mitigate them. The better you manage risks the safer and confident you are as a vendor-manager to ensure reliability, predictability and consistency.

E. Contracting and Rewarding

One most important factor is for you to read and understand the business-contract very clearly. Also make sure the vendor understands every clause of the contract. It's easy to hold the vendor accountable to the deliverable and its quality only if it is part of the contract. For example, I hold my vendor accountable to turnaround in a maximum of 4 hours for a "Priority 1" issue. This is a clearly laid out agreement in the contract. If they deliver on time or earlier there will be a bonus of x % on the work done for that project, if they deliver over a week late or so there will be penalty of y%.