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Archive for December, 2009


Working With Vendors

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Late last week, a representative of one of our most important vendors informed me that he is leaving to pursue a new opportunity. After I recovered from shock and wished him well, I had a chance to reflect on his contribution to our program and the value that he and his organization have brought to mine. I have been fortunate to work with him for several years and believe both of us have learned from the relationship. We’ve also developed a friendship that extends beyond doing business together.

Some believe the client-vendor relationship is somewhat adversarial – and at times it may be – but generally I feel that most vendors are much more than companies feeding off our programs. They are valued members of the team, and should be treated as such. It’s not ‘bad business’ to develop positive relationships with these folks just because they send us bills for their services.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a video that pokes fun at the vendor-client relationship. This video has become quite famous and you’ve probably seen it at one time or another. Some parts may even ring true, unfortunately, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of some of this behavior at least once. But generally, I believe it paints an unfair picture of the vendor-client relationship. In reality, I believe the relationship is positive for both sides and I hope my treatment (and yours) is better than this.

Following are just a few guidelines I recommend when working with vendors:

1. Select vendors who match your organization’s culture and values. Look for somebody you can work with frequently, will perform work at the level you expect and will contribute equally to the project. Work WITH them to partner on the projects you work on together. They are not here only to serve you, but rather they should become a valued member of your team. They’re providing a service that you either don’t want to provide yourself or simply don’t have the ability to perform. Welcome them, as they truly are an extension of your team.

2. Once you have selected a vendor, treat them as you would any other member of your team. It’s ok to be be open and honest about your successes and failures. It’s ok to become friends. It’s ok to show them how the sausage is made. The result will be a better relationship and final product that will benefit your organization. And it makes it more fun to work with them as well. Treating them as ‘that company that just takes money to provide a service’ doesn’t benefit either party.

3. As a member of your team, treat the vendor with the same respect as you would anyone else on your payroll. Be fair. Expect the best. Set realistic goals and expectations. One of my mentors spoke often of “making insiders out of outsiders” and this is just as true for vendors as it is donors. As they learn about you and your organization, they will strive to provide the best result possible.

4. Understand that vendors receive payment for providing a service, but that doesn’t translate into being a servant for your organization. Getting the best from those with whom you partner means allowing them to provide ideas, feedback and truly PARTNER rather than simply doing as you demand. You don’t have to take every suggestion, but respect them enough to listen. Hiring a vendor who learns early on that it’s better to always say ‘yes’ will likely create a less-than-optimal result. You’re hiring them for their expertise. Let them provide it.

5. When you have problems (and if you work with anyone long enough you WILL have a problem or two) let them know. Be honest and provide feedback to help them understand what you will expect in the future. Vendors are nothing more than collections of people, and people sometimes make mistakes. You wouldn’t hold your employees to a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy and you shouldn’t hold vendors to that standard either. You obviously can’t allow repeated mistakes or problems, but don’t overreact to the first one even if it’s a doozie.

6. Be realistic. Vendors provide services, not miracles.

7. If a vendor performs well, tell others. They’ll appreciate it. If they don’t, there’s no reason to spread the word. That’s not professional behavior. If you’re asked to provide a direct reference on a former vendor, by all means be fair and honest. But don’t seek out ways to damage somebody’s reputation. Sometimes things just don’t work out, let it be. There’s nothing to be gained for unprofessional behavior.

8. Like any member of your team, a vendor must meet your expectations. If the performance level just isn’t acceptable and you’ve given it a fair shake, it’s time to find a new vendor. When severing the relationship for performance problems, let the vendor know why you are doing so and how they might improve in the future. This type of feedback will allow them to exit the situation with knowledge that may benefit them (and other clients) in the future. It’s also helpful to document these expectations and problems so you can address them with others as you search for a replacement.

9. Treat your vendors well. I know so many people who seem downright mean to their vendors. Then they sit back and expect holiday gifts, birthday cards, trinkets, etc. They want to be treated like royalty because they’re paying the bills. Try returning the favor. Remember, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Show your appreciation for their efforts just as they show theirs for your patronage.

10. Remember: you get more flies with honey than with vinegar! Having a positive relationship doesn’t have to mean becoming somebody’s best friend, but it doesn’t hurt to maintain goodwill. When you need additional service, speedy turnaround, last-minute changes or something else that involves the vendor going out of their way to make something happen, you’ll have a better chance of getting that preferential treatment if you have a great relationship. All that nagging and complaining over the years might come back to haunt you when you need them most.

I hope, for the most part, I follow my own advice. From direct mail shops to telemarketing services to consultants and beyond, I have been fortunate to work with some very good people in the business. I’ve learned from them and they’ve learned from me. They provide valuable services and we provide solid business for them. It’s a true win-win for everyone.

I treat my consulting clients the same way. As the vendor, I am providing advice in a variety of areas, but I also enjoy developing relationships that last beyond the stated term of the engagement. I’m happy to stay in touch and hear how things are going. I continue to provide advice, and I gain knowledge from them as well. I love hearing of their continued success. I’m fortunate to have a full-time job and this allows me to be pretty picky about which clients I choose to work with. I won’t take a client for whom I can’t provide value, and I won’t take a client who doesn’t seem like they’d be enjoyable to work with. I hope the vendors we work with feel the same way.

Back to my friend and soon-to-be-former-vendor-partner. Mark, I wish you the best in your new endeavor. I’m confident you’ll be a great addition to your new team. I appreciate the counsel you’ve provided over the years and look forward to continuing to chat with you in the future. Eventually, I’ll even make you a better video poker player! While you’ll no longer be one of our vendors, you’ll always be a great friend. I fully expect to continue our chats about the business and more. I’m looking forward to meeting your replacement. I’ll make some stuff up and feed him/her stories. Then they can feed the rumor mill at your former employer!

Finally, I want to wish everyone who reads the GettingGiving.com blog a wonderful holiday. I hope the final few weeks of 2009 bring you many more donors. If you’re a vendor, substitute donors for clients!

The video I referenced at the beginning of this admittedly long post follows. If nothing else, maybe it’ll make you laugh a bit and teach you how NOT to work with a vendor.

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Category : Uncategorized | Blog

Random Efficiency Suggestion

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When I started the GettingGiving blog, I had several goals in mind. You may have noticed the ‘blog at least once a week’ goal hasn’t been met. Sorry about that! I plan to have a New Year’s resolution to address that issue. Another missed goal, however, has been bothering me as well.

I had hoped to share a few ‘general interest’ items in a wide variety of areas. Generally these would have some professional value to fundraising professionals, but I reserve the right to share an unrelated random item now and again.

This came to mind earlier today when I used the Google Desktop Search application once again to find a long-lost document. If you’re anything like me, you have thousands of documents, files, emails and other items filed electronically in a variety of local and networked locations. Mine have strange names, are filed in the wrong folders and have a variety of other issues that make it difficult to retrieve them at a moment’s notice.

Enter Google Desktop Search.

This free application (available at desktop.google.com) creates a local index of your files and emails and allows you to do a comprehensive search. It’s like having Google attached to your computer, and it’s very very fast. With GDS, the days of guessing what you named (and where you put) a file or email are gone.

Looking for the memo about direct mail expenses you wrote in 2004? Try keywords “direct mail 2004 expenses” and see what happens. Too many documents and emails have those keywords? Try adding the recipient’s name to further narrow the results. Need to find that spreadsheet listing every member of your team and the items they’re bringing to the holiday pitch-in? Enter several of their names as well as the words “corn” and “pie” to see what happens. Voila! There it is!

I’ve used GDS for a long time and every time somebody sees it in action they act surprised and ask how they can get it for themselves. I understand Windows Vista has similar functionality, but if you’re stuck on prior versions of Windows,this is one of those killer-apps that nobody seems to know about. Well, now you do.

Anything that helps manage the ‘digital clutter’ in our lives is worth investigating.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog