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How to Foster a Successful Agency-Vendor Relationship

Updated: Mar 21

Every vendor-agency relationship plots on a spectrum that ranges from adversarial and one-sided, to personal friendships and free-range approaches. It may feel good to always play hard ball, or to have a BFF at a vendor you like, but neither extreme is productive, professional or in your long-term best interests.

Mutualism is arguably the main reason why successful, longstanding partnerships develop. Each side experiences a benefit and that increases the chances for what we all want, survival and growth. As an agency, our goal is to get the most and very best value for each client. To create this reality, we set the narrative with vendors from the beginning; establishing clear rules of engagement. A direct professional mentality is everything. Be the pace car, set the speed and stay on track. To prevent going off-road, here are eight mantras to live by when setting agency-vendor rules of engagement.

  1. Respect the Game. Sales isn’t an easy job. You don’t have to like or recommend a product that gets pitched, but you should recognize the effort your contact is making. As your schedule allows, acknowledge the professional and return the call or email with honest feedback.

  2. Set Clear Boundaries. It’s much easier to set and maintain high standards if your investment is professional, not personal. Save the social media connections and personal gatherings for your friends. Don’t remove the human element to business, just filter it. Once a line has been crossed it’s hard to recover.  Ironically, boundaries can take you further.

  3. Lay it out There. Share your business processes, standards and requirements with your vendor partners before you do business. If you’re not setting expectations, don’t be surprised when they aren’t met.

  4. Get Connected. Don’t stop with just your representative’s contact information. As an example with traditional media vendors, introduce yourself to the traffic department, the local sales manager and even the general sales manager. Taking the time to meet and acknowledge the whole team can pay dividends.

  5. Don’t Sugarcoat Anything. Be concise when sharing directives, making requests or declining offers. It’s true what they say, time is money. Nobody wants to waste or chase it when it’s not necessary. False hope is not a gift you should be giving any vendor. Keep conversations fair and fact-filled, honestly is always the best policy.

  6. Just Say No. Don’t fall into the personal favor trap with gifts, tickets and trips. Keep your hands clean and your judgment impartial.

  7. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Nobody likes hearing what they did wrong, but it’s necessary to establish accountability. While addressing poor performances will earn you make-goods and credits, noticing the extra your vendor does for you can go even further. People like to be appreciated. When they are appreciated, they tend to work harder for you. Don’t just address the negatives. Hand out the gold stars when earned.

  8. Next Person Up: If your vendors aren’t holding up their end of the deal, and service is a secondary language, don’t hesitate to request a new contact.  As an agency, if you’re not getting what you need, chances are, the client isn’t either.  You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

The health of your business relationships are the result of the effort put into them. Set up clear boundaries and expectations. Have direct communication and always hold accountability. Your vendor relationships may not have embraced all of these tactics from the beginning, but by adopting these you’ll end up in a better place every time.

If you’re struggling with setting vendor expectations, let’s have a conversation about what CBC can do for you.

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