Vendor management tools and techniques are useless unless we are able to properly communicate with our vendors. Follow the vendor management etiquette principles to effectively deal with your vendors.
What vendor management etiquette is
Vendor management etiquette is the set of rules to appropriately and effectively engage and communicate with your vendors. Such rules include:
- The key communication principles.
- How to build trust.
- The mistakes to avoid.
As an employee, you should respect vendor management etiquette to look professional, appropriately engage vendors, and avoid any issues.
As a manager or employer, promote vendor management etiquette in your team to ensure effective communication between your company and your key business partners.
Vendor management etiquette rules
1) The optimal communication style depends on the context
Your vendors’ expectations depend on the context. Thus, it is best to adapt your communication style to meet their expectations. The context depends on the following factors.
What is the communication style of your company? Formal or informal? Friendly or rather serious? Observe how your coworkers deal with their vendors. Ask your managers if they prefer to keep a particular communication style with vendors.
What is the common communication style in your industry? If you work in a formal industry, a too-informal communication style may disappoint your vendors.
The product or service you buy from the vendor
Every product category has its technical vocabulary. Knowing the technical terms of your own category helps create trust. So, you should learn the industry jargon. Make sure that you and your suppliers interpret technical words the same way. If you are in doubt, do not be afraid to ask. Vendors usually want to be helpful and support you.
The communication channel
Adapt your style to the communication channel. For example, email requires special attention to the tone and conciseness. When meeting in person, non-verbal communication is key. Over the phone, try to slow down and speak in a clear voice in order to be understood.
2) State your needs with your vendors
The main goals of vendor management etiquette are to build trust and make sure that your needs are met. Thus, it is best to communicate your needs clearly.
Share your key performance indicators (KPIs) with your business partners. When vendors know the KPIs you need to optimize for, it will be easier for them to support you.
Be consistent. Communicate with your vendors in the same tone. The more predictable you are, the more your suppliers will trust you. The higher the trust, the easier vendor management gets.
3) Manage the boundaries with your vendors
Set boundaries and respect them. Communicate clearly what you expect from a vendor. Which behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not.
The most typical boundaries in vendor management etiquette are:
- The tone of communication you expect from a vendor.
- How personal and informal the relationship can get.
- The speed and accuracy you expect from their replies.
- The way vendors should manage any business issue that may arise.
4) Manage vendors with a consistent communication style
Consistency is key to vendor management etiquette. Thus, it is best to keep the same communication style with every vendor. Do not favor some vendors over others due to your personal preferences.
The vendors that operate in the same industry always talk to each other. They always discuss their clients and partners. So, if you manage some vendors more favorably than others, you risk losing credibility.
5) Put every agreement or request in writing
It is perfect vendor management etiquette to always put every agreement in writing. It will limit the risk of misinterpretation. Send a follow-up email after every meeting. Follow business writing rules to write clear and effective documents.
6) Hold vendors accountable
A key goal of vendor management etiquette is to hold your vendors accountable while maintaining appropriate manners.
If a vendor is late, follow up. Be polite, but firm. Ask if something is causing the delay. State why a delay is a problem for you. Be understanding and offer help. However, you should be firm if you need vendors to respect a deadline.
If the work of a vendor is of low quality, say it. Do the same if you have issues with their product or service. Start by praising what works well. Then, state clearly what should be improved. Explain why. Be friendly, but make your vendor understand what your needs are.
7) Communicate in the right tone
It is best to prefer a formal tone in vendor management communication.
Use positive language. Avoid negative words, sentences, or remarks. Avoid starting sentences with a “no”. Do not antagonize vendors. Ask probing questions instead. Be patient. Show empathy. How would you feel in their shoes? How would you want to be treated?
Do not interrupt vendors. Let them finish their sentences. If you interrupt, you show a lack of interest in what they have to say. If you meet vendors in person, manage your non-verbal communication appropriately. Show positive body language. Pay exclusive attention when they speak.
8) Show your vendors that you value them
Know your suppliers’ KPIs. It is easier to manage vendors if you know what KPIs they need to improve. If a vendor helps you in a situation, recognize it. Reward positive behavior.
9) Vendor management is an art: observe and adjust
We can always improve how we manage our vendors. One size does not fit all. Thus, you should periodically take the time to reflect on your past interactions. What went well? What went wrong? Why could it be? Maybe it was the situation. Or the type of vendor. Identify the key factors that influence vendor management success in your job.
Observe your coworkers or managers and how they manage their vendors. The way they respond to variations in content, style, or tone. Then, gradually adjust your style and mirror the best practices.
Vendor management etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst vendor management etiquette mistakes.
- 8/10. Speaking in an inappropriate tone.
- 8/10. Antagonizing your vendors.
- 7/10. Not adapting your communication style to the vendor or the situation.
- 7/10. Not paying exclusive attention when a vendor speaks.
- 6/10. Failing to set and respect boundaries.
- 3/10. Speaking more than you listen.
- Vendor management mindset: pmi.org