Do your vendors really know your vision and expectations? Are they exceeding or at least meeting them? Are your vendors proactive or reactive? These are very tough questions to answer, especially if you really like a given sales representative or you've been working with a particular vendor for years. But if you're honest, is your organization better off because of that vendor or they treat you as a cash cow?
For years I would share my vision and expectations (at least that’s what I told myself) with my vendors, but I did it verbally and never really followed through with anything I said after that. This led to frustrations down the line, but looking back on it, it was my own fault, because I didn't communicate effectively. I see now that my conversations with vendors were more rants out of frustration than efforts to promote purposeful dialogue that would foster lasting relationships.
I was lacking the approach of partnering together to grow together. Not all of your vendors will understand or have the knowledge to meet your expectations, but if they're willing to learn, they can grow with you. What I have begun to do is to sit with each vendor and go over my expectations. I schedule a meeting with not only the local rep and/or merchandiser and any service technicians who work at your site, but as applicable, the national reps involved as well. I then communicate my vision and expectations. I document it in writing and have them sign it as a show of their commitment to grow with me.
Capturing this in writing is key, because once you've done so, you have set the bar and there should be no misunderstanding. I also give vendors a set of questions with the direction to return their answers to me within a week. I do this to force them to study what it is I am looking for and how they can better serve me. Most of your vendors are more than willing to learn and grow with you, so develop them with you!
Below are some of the questions I ask them:
- Name 10 best practices for storeroom/inventory/parts management.
- What sets you apart from your competition?
- What is the difference between a reactive vendor and a proactive vendor?
- What do you consider yourself—reactive or proactive?
- What services/solutions can you provide to partner with us and help take us to the next level?
Once you have established your expectations, set a quarterly review with vendors to talk about progress, any improvements you've made because of their suggestions, and cost savings/avoidances you've realized. Ask them whether their partnership with you has improved them in any way, as your relationship ideally will be mutually beneficial. It will set you apart from most customers with which they do business.
(As a side note, I would run this document through your legal department just to make sure that it does not conflict with any contracts that may already be in place.)
We have seen many benefits in our storeroom just from our vendor partnerships. Among these are getting help with developing PMs on our parts, having some vendors kit jobs for us in prepackaged kits, instituting quality standards and quality checks on our rebuilds/rewinds, and achieving cost savings/avoidances that help elevate the maintenance department to a profit center instead of a cost center. In one year’s time, we have captured more than $500,000 in savings/avoidances.
Once you put this in place, you will begin to see the added benefit of vendors that are committed to partnering with you as you evolve best practices within your organization.