Several words get bandied about far too often in the English language. One of them is "partnership."
I've heard CIOs refer to every vendor they work with as a "partner." I view partners and vendors the same way I view friends and acquaintances: I am fortunate to have many acquaintances, but I'm even luckier to have some true friends.
Is this all just semantics? I don't think so.
When you work with a partner, both parties seek a win-win outcome. That is to say, you are as concerned about your partner's success in the relationship as you are about your own agenda. That's how I view partnership. A vendor, on the other hand, is someone with whom you transact business, plain and simple. I go to the deli and give the man $8 and he gives me a pound of turkey breast. Done deal.
Given the current economic climate, we are all being urged to renegotiate our contractual agreements. Believe me, I am in favor of negotiating effective contracts with my partners. But if you truly are working with a partner, you are taking a long-range view of how to keep the relationship valuable for both parties.
In the current climate, practically all vendors are willing to renegotiate terms. After all, it's better to keep clients at discounted rates than to have to find new ones. Customer retention is always a priority, but in the recession, the imperative is to remain in business. However, human beings are like elephants: They have a long memory, and how you act today will still be with the other party three years from now when things have turned around.
Therefore, in a true partnership, you should focus on what adds value for both parties.
I'm not suggesting that you negotiate less strongly for your organization. All I am saying is that if you're engaged in a true partnership, you look for ways to keep both parties whole. What are your needs? What are your partner's priorities? Is there a way both parties can take something of value from the negotiation? Those of you who are in successful long-term personal relationships (dysfunctional marriages don't count) know what I'm talking about.
Perhaps you (like everybody) need immediate relief to lower your operating costs. What can you do to add value to your partner's efforts? Perhaps adding an extra year to the contract at the lower rate ensures needed cash flow in times of tight credit. Maybe acting as a reference for new prospects would make a difference. Being able to leverage your organization's brand in marketing their services or getting a testimonial from you could be meaningful. Whatever the case, in any true partnership, if you take something, you should be willing to give something in return.
Some of you hard-nosed negotiators will view me as being soft in my approach. You adhere to the old-school perspective of squeezing every last dime out of your vendors. I would remind you that you're counting on these people to be an extension of your staff. I view my partners as members of my team. They interact with our clients and provide critical services to our community.
If my team is going to be successful, I need everyone on the team to have the attitude, aptitude, commitment and focus that is representative of how I do business.
So make sure everyone you work with--even those who don't carry a company badge--always feels good about representing who you are and what you are about