In my former life, I was a teacher. So, when working with difficult vendors, I see them as my fifth grade students. They may stomp, cry, whine or be completely disrespectful, but they’re still kids. Vendors are people, too. If I stomp, cry, whine or disrespect them, where does that get me? Not very far. I’ve gone down that route and it never seems to pay off in the long run. Why not? Why doesn’t this approach work?
I’ve asked myself this over and over again through the years. Working with problematic vendors is an interesting mix of psychological warfare and intestinal fortitude. In the end, it comes down to a partnership. For the most part in my daily work, I run into vendors that are fair, open and fairly easy to work with. This is the 80%. Then, just like the problem students who are constantly in detention, there’s the 20%. The vendors who play hardball, love to make your job difficult and enjoy saying “No”. Do you remember the problem kids when you were in school? The teacher seemed exasperated when dealing with these students, and as she raised her voice, the student would raise their voice. It would go on for what seemed like hours, only to end in a trip to the principal.
How do we avoid “trips to the principal”? We begin by understanding the root of the issues with questions such as:
- Why is the vendor on the defense?
- What caused this reaction?
- Who had the vendor been working in the past within your organization? Was this relationship a good one or a contentious one?
- What are their demands and why are they making them?
- Is the vendor trying to make their end of quarter sales quota and they have to show a certain amount of revenue recognition? This seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re not in the business of living and dying by quarter end sales, you may not understand how important this is to the vendor.
So, the next time you feel like giving the vendor on the other end of the phone a piece of your mind (not to mention a large part of your sanity), take a step back and think about the best approach to strive for a win / win relationship, turning a problematic vendor into a supportive partner.