vendor management, vendor relationships, successful project

6 tips to improve your vendor relationships

Six Tips for Improving Your Vendor Relationships

Vendors are a critical part of every project’s success. Here’s how to keep them happy.

By Stephanie Hamilton, Senior Project Manager

Every project manager has a story about a time a project unexpectedly went sideways after an unforeseeable delay.

My story involves a large multi-floor high rise project that was on schedule until a delivery of key lighting components landed on back order. We were under the gun to meet landlord leasing terms, deliver the project on time and on budget while keeping this difficult client happy.

To stay on track, I asked the team “What can we do to work around this challenge?” This question launched us into a discussion that ultimately landed on a solution that left everyone satisfied.

Here are six things every project manager can start doing today to help your team, vendors included, work together through your next difficult problem.

  1. Value their time
    We all lead busy lives and have lengthy to-do lists. When you hold a meeting with your vendors, make sure it is productive, on time and to task. Don’t be afraid to speak up, reel in the chatter and get back on track. When you respect your vendor’s time, they are more likely to respect yours.
  2. Keep them informed
    Make sure your team is kept up to date on schedule changes, product delays and overall scope definition. When you hoard information, you prevent your vendors from performing to their fullest, delivering on time and feeling like part of the team.
  3. Ask for opinions
    When I start up a new team, I always ask the same simple question to encourage vendors to share their knowledge: What do you think? Getting to know everyone’s opinion makes the team stronger, the project more successful, and leaves the vendor feeling like they made a strong contribution.
  4. Bring in the most outspoken person last
    There is always one person in the room that is more eager to give their opinion. Try waiting until there is one minute left in the meeting before you ask for their feedback so other people can get a word in. This will also encourage them to present their input in a condensed, concise fashion.
  5. Ask about challenges, not issues
    Instead of asking what issues vendors are having, try digging into the challenges they’re encountering. For example, a vendor might volunteer that they’re having a challenge with product delivery, and suggest changing manufacturers. By turning this thought process around, it gives the team an opportunity to develop a plan and quickly execute it.
  6. Treat those around you like you would like to be treated
    Remember that people are people, not titles. When you build teams, think about how to create a cohesive group instead of focusing on the organizational hierarchy. From the COO to the delivery truck driver, always remain friendly, courteous and professional. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they had for lunch or how their daughter’s graduation went. You might be surprised how simple questions grow relationships.

When our lighting components were delayed, I depended on the resources and ingenuity of our team of vendors to come up with a way to keep the project on schedule.

Working as a team, we looked at all angels of escalating the delivery of the product and different ways of managing the manufacturer.  Unfortunately, this path was too costly and would take too much time to obtain.

But then a non-lighting team member suggested we look at a different manufacturer with a similar product. That supplier’s parts were local, less expensive and could be delivered ahead of schedule.  This simple suggestion ended up being a brilliant idea which kept us on track, saved money and adhered to the client’s high standards. And it all happened because I encouraged our team to think outside the box.

Without buy-in from your entire team, vendors included, meetings can stall, projects can flounder, and clients can become unhappy. By encouraging team members to speak their minds, offer solutions and not dwell on the impossible, you can come up with workable solutions for almost any type of problem.

How has your relationship with a vendor helped you lead a project to success? Share your story below.