Making Vendor Relationships Work Effectively

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Dear Bev,

We hired an outside contractor to do some marketing work for us. It has been a nightmare. She is difficult to deal with and criticizes every idea we have. I expected her to offer “client service” to us along with her technical expertise. Is there something we can do differently to avoid this situation in the future? I can’t afford a full-time hire, so I am dependent on outside help. What happened to professionalism and the-client-is-always-right attitudes?

Mike S., Boston

Dear Mike:

I can answer some of your other questions and give you some guidance to increase the probability of success next time. However, I cannot answer the question of what happened to professionalism. Unfortunately, I ask this same question often dealing with outside resources in my own firm!

  1. When hiring outside resources – for marketing or anything else – it is critical to have a written agreement about the expected deliverables, timeframe for deliverables, costs and contingencies. I see too many situations where the understanding is not defined in writing and confusion arises. Even if you have worked with a vendor in the past, put any new agreement in writing and be as clear and specific as possible.
  2. Be aware of behavioral style. Some of what you are talking about sounds like a “high C” – high compliance, rules-oriented style. These folks will often come across as critical or difficult. Their strength is to identify what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed, but their weakness is that they can be too harsh in their response. First, get an understanding of your own style, and then find someone who matches you in communication and approach. Or conversely, find someone else in your firm with a similar style and team them up with the vendor. Much of what is going wrong here sounds style-related (and therefore communication-related). I speak more about style in a video on our website.
  3. Have an agreement, preferably in writing, about communication. Given the lack of “assumed” professionalism and the “client is always right” attitude you talk about, you might want to write out some expectations. For example: a 24-hour or one-business-day turnaround, a monthly conference call to discuss progress, a number of rounds of edits (when marketing related) or rules about cancellation of calls or meetings. Leave nothing to chance. Identify those things that matter to you and be sure the vendor agrees with them in advance of starting the project.
  4. Think about finding someone through referral next time. Custodians, fund managers and other large institutions have “vetted” a number of vendors for their programs, and they are invested in success for their advisor clients. You might want to turn to one of these larger firms next time to help you find the right resource. This way, you have someone else who can intervene and provide assistance if necessary.

See full article on Making Vendor Relationships Work Effectively by Beverly Flaxington, Advisor Perspectives

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