Developing Open Communication With Your Vendor Partners

Developing Open Communication With Your Vendor Partners

Imagine a business world where resources were plentiful and industry expertise could be available at every juncture. Where decisions could be made that dovetailed alignment in support of your strategic plan throughout your networks. Imagine a world that anticipates your directives and assists in helping to execution your vision flawlessly. This is a business community that embraces its vendors.

Vendor communication is often overlooked as a vital cog in an operator optimizing their resources to move their strategic plan forward. Often, vendors are considered as an afterthought, or worse, as an adversary. Establishing an open communication conduit with your vendor partners enables the operator to exponentially impact their business. Vendors, in turn, will benefit from precision displayed by the operator.

As more and more communication with the vendor community is established, greater accomplishments are achieved with all partners “rowing at the same time.” While this is an ongoing process for the operator, the benefits are immense for all parties simply due to the alignment of common goals. Rather than have a finite number of internal staff hoisting the weight of executing strategic initiatives, vendors can add valuable resources and expertise that enable organizations to get from “here-to-there” much more quickly.

Here are some key items to consider when establishing a better vendor communication policy:

Set The Stage: Vendor alignment is a tricky and challenging endeavor considering the many vendors that you may interact with. All of these vendors have their own goals – some in concert and some not so much with yours. Leaving strategic goal setting to sort itself out on its own, is not the answer. As the operator, it is imperative to set the stage and expectations with each of your vendor partners. The options are twofold: 1) you can do this through a series of one-on-one meetings; or 2) you can invite all your vendors to an annual vendor conference and communicate your strategic vision en masse.

Invite Partnership: In either case, asking vendors for their partnership and support is paramount. The adage “a rising tide lifts all boats” has never been more pronounced and operators that effectively exhibit this mantra with their vendors will be a leg up on their competition. Partnership can come in many forms to include industry expertise and resource allocation. Both are designed to create win-win scenarios for both the operator and vendor.

Invite Participation: Beyond partnership, asking vendors to actively participate in the overall operation takes this a step further. Co-op investing by vendors in an well-thought through overall strategy creates revenue generating opportunities for both parties. If done correctly, co-op investing can be rotated between vendors and aligned in a fashion that programs are accretive to one another, building momentum throughout the year. It is the role of the operator to dovetail their strategic goals with co-op participation that effectively supports those goals. Chasing co-op dollars without a plan doesn’t help either party.

Ask For Expertise: Let’s face it, in most cases, vendors know their industries far better than you possibly could. It is the operator’s prerogative to leverage that expertise and translate those learning’s into actionable initiatives that support the overall strategic plan. In this case, the operator becomes a puppet master of sorts with the challenge of knowing which strings to tug and when. But, armed with the expertise of sharp vendor partners, harnessing the vendor community’s expertise puts the operator in the catbird seat. 

Reward Efforts: Lastly, rewarding excellent partnership is a natural progression for the operator to say “thanks”. One of the reasons I prefer an annual vendor conference is that it simultaneously allows an operator to communicate the upcoming year’s vision to many vendors. In addition, rewarding your vendor partner’s efforts in front of their peers is the icing on the cake. Inspiring your vendor community to take an active role in your operation is reinforced when they see their peers being recognized.

 In summary, most operators bemoan the continual pressure on their G & A budgets and fail to recognize and tap into a valuable resource: the vendor community. Prudent operators that can not only develop a strategic vision but can inspire their vendor partners to actively participate in the delivery of that plan, are light-years ahead of their competition. Get organized; share your vision; and invite participation from your vendors and your upside is limitless.

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John Matthews

John Matthews is the president and CEO of Gray Cat Enterprises and is responsible for the management of all consulting activities for the firm, which include retail consulting for multiunit operations; interim divisional or general management leadership; consumer marketing for companies launching products in the retail sector; and strategic project management. With more than 30 years of senior-level experience and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written Game-Changing Strategies for Retailers, which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing for Retailers and How to Stage a Killer Grand Opening!, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.

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