Just Don’t Call Me A Vendor!
There’s something about these tougher times that invites introspection. Lately I find myself reflecting on the real value of all of the investments I’ve made in my business over the last 10 years.
Like most business owners, I can easily tick off the investments in obvious material things – servers and software, office equipment, the skilled folks that make CPGjobs run everyday. Last week however, a particularly tough candidate search put me in mind of the most important investment I’ve ever made in this business. It’s the investment in the relationships we have with our loyal clients. Despite the challenging economy, our clients have consistently shown up, re-invested in us, and have continued to support our approach to career networking for CPG professionals. I feel incredibly lucky, but the truth is, business relationships are hard work.
I once read a wonderful quote from Paul Stieman at Oracle that went something like this:
“Building strong business relationships is the critical success factor…at the end of the day, buying and selling happens between people, not between organizations. People buy from people they know, trust and like.”
Let me take a moment to tell you about that tough candidate search.
One of our clients was trying to fill several critical hard-to-fill positions for their operations outside the U.S. They posted these positions on CPGjoblist, but they didn’t stop there. They picked up the phone and gave us a call. Now, this is where CPGjobs really shines. We immediately posted their candidate requirements out to several of the online social networks and communities in which we are active. Lo and behold, within a few hours we had received multiple inquiries from qualified candidates. Now, these candidates were not yet registered at CPGjoblist. No matter. We got them registered with complete professional profiles and forwarded that information on to our client who immediately scheduled interviews.
In this case, our system worked like a well-oiled machine on our client’s behalf. The outcome might have been different however if our client had not felt comfortable picking up the phone and asking for our help. Here’s my point; there has always been a strategic advantage in transforming vendor relationships into valuable partner relationships “ and it’s during tougher times like these that the “dividends” from such an investment in partner relationships really pays off. This is true whether you are sitting in the client OR the partner seat.
In his article for Kiplinger.com, 9 ½ Ways…To Turn Your Vendors Into Valuable Partners, former Business Marketing editor Joe Mullich writes that “Companies that develop cooperative, rather than competitive relationships with their vendors realize the best results and the highest profits.” Mullich suggests the following ways to transform vendor relationships into strategic partnerships to the benefit of all involved parties:
- Be open and honest. Early in the relationship, openly express to your vendors that you seek a partnership. Make it clear that you plan to do business with them in the long term and ask what they do for their best customers, as you intend to be one right from the start.
- Don’t negotiate just on price. Rather than simply snatching every last dollar on the table, look for savings that result in a win-win for all concerned. Volume discounts, terms and conditions, co-marketing opportunities and free services are some examples of win-win value-adds.
- Pay quickly. Paying your invoices quickly differentiates great clients. Paying earlier than the invoice terms require will score lots of points and helps build more of a partnership.
- Discover passions. Understand your vendors’ own business goals. At first, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, your vendor is there to service you. If however, you know that your vendor is moving heavily into diversity recruiting or search engine optimization, you may be able to tap into that passion and expertise to the benefit of all parties.
- Look ahead.Talk to your vendors about the long terms strategic direction of your business. How will you adapt to the changing developments in professional social networking? In what areas are you most likely to be filling positions over the next 12 months? Encourage your vendors to do the same with you. That way, your vendors can more easily adapt the focus of their business and the service of your account specifically to your needs.
- Use your brains. Someone a lot smarter than me once said, “You don’t have to know everything to run your business, you just have to hire people that do.” Don’t be afraid to create joint intellectual capital with your vendors. Ask about the problems in your shared value chain that are going unaddressed. For example, how can you collaborate with vendors to take maximum advantage of the latest techniques for building an employment brand through online communities?
- Watch the paperwork. Try not to force your vendors through too many hoops or complex work order processes. Instead, focus your efforts on educating your partners about success measurability and reporting requirements, how your internal approval mechanisms work, etc.
- Appoint stewards. If possible, provide a single, reliable point of contact “ a vendor “steward – for each of your vendors. Meet internally with your stewards to discuss and share best practices for working effectively with your vendors.
- Share critical information. To achieve the best results it is necessary to share critical business information with vendors. Have your internal hire-rate benchmarks changed? What is the expected ROI for working with outside recruitment firms? This “collaborative working capital” model can significantly improve vendor performance…provided that the information is shared in advance.
- (9 1/2) “Have a party.” Celebrate successes together. Did you receive extraordinary assistance hiring senior management for that new plant in Germany? Key “C” position filled? Celebrating and openly recognizing the contribution of your vendors reinforces the notion that your business relationship is a true partnership.
I really like Mullich’s take on vendor / partner relationships. As I think about it, I do believe that the relationships one has with clients and partners can be a real determining factor in making or breaking a business “ even in the best of economies. And I’ve got to tell you that even though it has happened many, many times, I still feel honored when a client picks up the phone and asks for our help. However, we are definitely not perfect. There is a lot we can do to make it easier for clients to work with us.
Over the next several months we will be spending more time and dedicating more resources towards educating our clients on our full compliment of CPGjobs services and how to use them to their best advantage. We’ll be investing in new technologies and partnerships to help clients expand their employment brands in professional online social networks, and we’ll be engaging in aggressive candidate acquisition campaigns to broaden our reach within the CPG community. Finally, we’ll be introducing even more flexibility within our package pricing structure to make it easier for clients of all sizes to take advantage of all that CPGjobs has to offer.
Even as we all individually grapple with the future, it’s important to remember that we all have the ability to make each other’s jobs easier. In most cases, it’s as simple as picking up the phone or firing off an email. Transforming our business contracts into true partnerships for success will make us all more successful…and help create an environment of mutual trust and respect that is the foundation of all great relationships.