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Think Partnership, Not Just Business Relationship

In insight / By Howard Smith / 26 March 2018

In a recent Nasstar blog, we explored ways to supercharge your relationships with suppliers. We looked at some of the pillars of a client/supplier relationship and how to get the operational side of things on the right footing.

It was all quite business-like, which is why in this piece, we’re looking at ways to take that relationship to the next stage: a mutually beneficial partnership.

This is important because inevitably, over the course of a long-term agreement – say three to five years - there’ll be times when you need your supplier to pull out all the stops for you. You may, for example, win a huge order or get the chance to pitch for a marquee client. Great news, however, the knock-on effects and the extra workload will have an impact on every key function in your organisation – including those you outsource.

Finding yourself up against a killer timeframe with seemingly unworkable deadlines is another scenario in which businesses have no option but to ask staff and suppliers alike to go the extra mile.

If your supplier has no contractual obligation to oblige, your chances of winning their cooperation will rest on the quality of your partnership with them (or, if they’re PR savvy, the opportunity to create a great case study).

Suppliers who profit from – and enjoy - their partnership with you will do everything they can to keep it that way. As any business knows, the cost of retaining a good client is nothing like that of identifying, pursuing and securing a new one.

So, here are some of the things you can do to make your partnerships with suppliers more than a mere series of business transactions.

Look beyond the client / supplier dynamic

Get under the skin of the deal and understand how and why it benefits not only your organisation, but the supplier’s too. As a managed IT service provider, for example, Nasstar builds partnerships rather than mere agreements to supply IT expertise. Often, we are our clients’ IT department in all but name. But more than that, they know us as their end-to-end provider – a partner they can come to for a whole range of services.

Be open

A sure sign of a great business partnership is where one side can raise a concern or address an issue without it affecting the health of the relationship. So, if you feel that something needs nipping in the bud, discuss it early, clearly and honestly. As a supplier to your customers yourself, you’ll know how much better it is to get problems dealt with sooner rather than later. The worst problems in any relationship are those that are never spoken about. Which means you should also constantly:

Keep your eyes and ears open

If you’re going to be open with your supplier about anything you’re not happy with, be approachable to them for the same reason. Even better, pre-empt the conversation by looking out for signs that your supplier isn’t happy. Brief the relevant people in your organisation to keep their eyes and ears open. Then, should any issues arise, you can deal with it proactively before the supplier needs to raise it with you. The same applies with clients, of course, and people will thank you for helping them avert an awkward call.

Act like a partner

Walk the walk by having contacts with your supplier at managerial as well as operational level. This way, you’ll get a deeper understanding of their wider business aims, which could lead to opportunities to support their growth and development. You could, for example, refer potential clients (and benefit financially) or help them enter new markets or geographies. In turn, the supplier may be able to help you in ways that you hadn’t identified before.

Using our own services as an example again, we always look at the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’. Yes, we provide managed IT services and bespoke cloud solutions as well as 24/7 IT support, GDPR consultation and professional services, but we also take time to understand why it matters in every unique case. For some clients, it’s about growth, for others it’s about improving efficiencies. Either way, the partnership is always about more than simply supplying IT, then walking away.

Don’t forget the social side

Business social events are often used primarily to entertain existing and prospective clients. However, they’re also a great way to cement relationships with suppliers. Including them in your summer parties, Christmas, dos, golf days etc. will help you get to know your suppliers on a personal as well as professional level – making everything we just talked about above that little bit easier. If your organisation’s social calendar isn’t as busy as you’d like, consider organising a supplier event or, at the very least, having the occasional one-to-one business lunch with key suppliers.

Be a good payer

No business likes a consistent late payer. You may account for 20 per cent of a supplier’s revenue, but you’re unlikely to be treated with the deference you feel this merits if you account for 40 per cent of its invoice-chasing time and resource. All the good work you do to build a great partnership can be undone by late payments – it really is that damaging. Being a good payer on the other hand means suppliers will try to help you should you ever need a favour or a little time to ride out a storm.

Keep it a work in progress

Avoid complacency as you build your partnerships by accepting that the work is never finished. By keeping on top of things and consciously developing your links to your suppliers – at all levels – your relationships will get better and better.

We pride ourselves on creating robust, successful partnerships, that's why some of our clients have been working with us for over ten years! If you'd like to hear more about how we could help you manage your IT please contact us.

Howard Smith

Howard Smith

Howard is a freelance writer for various companies and writes for the Nasstarian on a wide range of subjects.

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