You (the Vendor) and the
Vendors Who Vend to You

6 Things to Keep in Mind That’ll Improve Your Vendor Relationships

Today’s guest blog post is written by Ben Ferber, IT Coordinator and Office Manager, Patron Technology.

You’re probably a person who works for an arts organization. Your organization sells stuff to people. But before you can sell stuff, your organization needs to buy stuff — and you probably buy stuff from a vendor.

Buying stuff from a vendor is different than buying stuff as a regular person. The relationship you forge is almost always deeper and more complicated. So here are six things to keep in mind before you make that call or click that link:

1. Your vendor will treat you like a company, rather than a person.

To your vendor, you’re a huge faceless organization. They know next to nothing about you — they probably don’t even know what your company does. And they might not care.

Over-the-phone interactions will make you feel like you’re a robot talking to a wall. They might offer you stuff you have no need for. They might offer a deal outside of your price range or physical scale: “You can buy 6000 of our product for 75% the price per unit!” You’ll have to make them understand who you are, what you need, and what you’re able to afford.

To your vendor, reeling in a tiny fish (i.e. a regular person) is easy, and if they lose it they probably didn’t waste too much time on it. Reeling in a huge fish, however (an arts organization, in your case), takes time, patience, and strength. If they lose you, it’s a big deal to them — so they’re more likely than not going to treat you like you’re an enormous well-respected operation with a huge budget, even if you’re actually a three-person operation.

They’ll be respectful; they’ll want to make you happy. You can probably get a reduced price out of them, too, with much more ease than if you were one person. And, they may also offer you time-based discounts and promotions.

But remember: they don’t really know you and your company, unless you tell them what you do, and how you’re going to do it with their products. Once they know that, they have the tools to personalize their service to what you need. (Whether they actually will? That’s another question.)

2. You might be inclined to treat your vendor like a company, rather than a person.

Take the kinds of steps you’d take when interacting with a patron, instead. Patience, clarity, and strong research will help you get along.

3. Vendor relationships are kind of like [an oddly transactional picture of] romance.

Dating: Your first few interactions are a trial period — first impressions are turning into deeper understanding. And they’re learning whether spending time with you makes them want to run away from you screaming.

Marriage: With your biggest vendors, for example, your phones and Internet, you often end up signing a contract. You’re stuck together. Over time you’ve learned all the positive things about them, and some qualities you wish would change. But sometimes they surprise you with a cool skill you never knew about.

The affair: Sometimes a shiny new vendor comes along that promises to fix all the problems of the old one. Just like your current vendor probably did, this shiny new vendor is probably giving you a great impression. But be careful not to jump ship too fast—once the gleam wears off, you may well find your new friend’s got problems too.

The break-up: You and a vendor might drift apart, or realize you’re incompatible. Sometimes you’ve changed, not them! And sometimes that affair ended up being healthier for you than your current situation.

Of course, unlike real-life romance, vendor relationships are asymmetrical — you give money, they give stuff. (I suppose there’s a “sugar daddy” argument to be made, but I’m not going to make it.)

4. Your vendor hates waiting—particularly if you leave them hanging.

How many times have you gotten one of the following emails this week:

“Hey! Just checking back in on the quote we sent. It expires in 2 days.”

“Your cart misses you! Please come back to our website and buy everything in it, and also more things!”

(For the record, I’ve gotten 3.)

You’ll probably reach a point where you need to pause and check in with someone higher in your organization up to make sure a big purchase is okay. This is where communication is key. Particularly if you were working with a human, your vendor probably expended energy to get you a quote, and they’re really hoping that energy would turn into a sale—and often they get a bit antsy. (You maybe do, too!)

Keeping them informed about where you are — talking to a higher up, checking your budget, etcetera — makes sure that even if the sale ultimately doesn’t go through, they’ll be happy to take your call the next time you might need them.

5. Your vendor’s not going to be perfect.

Stuff breaks. Things take forever to ship. Software may not work as expected. Eventually, something’s going to go wrong somewhere and you may end up on the phone for 2 hours (at least 1 of them on hold) trying to fix it.

Remember that your vendor didn’t want this to happen either — and the person on the other end of the line definitely wishes it hadn’t happened and is trying to make it un-happen. So even if you need to be firm to get your problem fixed, remember that your issue is about what you can fix rather than what you thought wouldn’t need to be fixed. Keeping that in mind will save you a 3 hour phone conversation, at least.

6. You’re not going to be a perfect customer either.

Working with vendors — particularly, observing how they deal with your mistakes, special needs, and issues — can teach you how to work better with your own clients. You might experience something similar to something your company’s doing that’s intensely annoying to your clients — and you never realized! (And you know how to fix it now!)

And sometimes you might even be able to steal a customer service trick from your vendor’s book. Always be on the lookout! Remember: arts organizations sell stuff, too, in their own way—so the vendors who vend to you might be more like you than you think.

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