How to Build a Trusted Vendor Network

By | July 27, 2016
0    Comment(s)

Vendor Network As an inbound marketing agency, we pride ourselves on offering a diverse portfolio of integrated services to our clients. While we consider ourselves hybrid marketers in all areas—e.g. brand marketing, blogging, premium content, PR and media relations, social media, SEO, website development, etc.—we also realize that our core competencies (and efficiencies) primarily center around writing, consultation and strategy development, analytics and performance assessment, and project management.

To supplement our capabilities and offerings to clients, we lean on a network of trusted partners who specialize in areas like graphic design, photography, web development and coding, and video. Our third-party partners are essential to the agency and our ability to produce exceptional work for our clients. They serve as extensions of our own team, have likeminded work ethics, and oftentimes become more than partners—they are our friends in the business.

If your agency is considering the development of a partner network, if you’ve been invited to partner, or if you’re seeking insight on how to improve an existing vendor relationship, consider the following roadmap and tips on how to develop your network and effectively manage those relationships. 

Why Outsource to a Partner? 

When you operate as a startup or a small shop, it can make a lot of business sense to outsource a portion of your services. Oftentimes, partnerships enable agencies to enhance their capabilities and capitalize on real-time growth opportunities with current or new clients. 

Reasons and motivations vary by organization, but can include the following: 

  • Supplement your internal team’s capacity.
  • Enhance capabilities through an expert or specialist.
  • Capitalize on the profitability of outsourcing a project or service.

It’s important for organizations to recognize what services they excel at and what’s profitable for the business to keep-in house. From there, it’s easy to identify opportunities to contract third-party vendors.

Keep in mind: Outsourcing throws in another variable for your team and clients. Before deciding to build a freelancer or web developer network, consider how your internal team is structured to manage those relationships, how the cost will be transferred to the client, and whether or not you openly share with the client that work is being outsourced. 

Additionally, you must account for client preferences and requirements, such as the need to work with a local vendor or stipulations included in their master service agreement.

In some cases, the outsourcing of services is a natural fit and easy conversation to have with your clients — e.g. you need a developer with sophisticated coding capabilities. In other instances, such as contracting a freelancer to tackle a white paper, the lines can be a little blurred. 

How to Build a Trusted Partner Network 

When you’ve identified a need to outsource services to a third-party vendor, consider whom you want that to include. Chances are you already know individuals or companies within your personal and professional network, but you may also need to expand your search to find specialists that offer what you’re looking for. 

While combing your rolodex for potential partners may help, consider checking the following sources:

  • Personal Network: Search through your professional network on LinkedIn or other industry networking channels (e.g. Inbound.org) to look for freelance writers, designers or other agencies who take on project work.
  • Referrals: Ask your network for referrals and recommendations for a particular specialized service (e.g. copywriting, graphic design, photography or video).
  • Research: Search for solutions in the market that can deliver work quickly and affordably (e.g. 99designs).
  • Industry Event: If the need for partnership is not immediate, consider in-person opportunities to organically grow your network at industry conferences and networking events. Make it a priority to connect with other agencies and service providers, and learn more about their company and services to take back to your team.

Before agreeing to work on an upcoming project with a new vendor, be sure to practice due diligence when vetting them as a potential fit. Here are a few topics and questions to discuss with potential partners:

  • Quality of Work: Ask for their portfolio or samples of past work. Does the work meet your agency’s standards? Would you trust them to deliver top-quality work to your clients?
  • Capacity: Do they have the ability to take on projects and deliver within the timeframe needed to meet client needs and expectations? 
  • Pricing: Does their pricing model align with your agency’s? How will costs be transferred to the client?
  • Project Management: How will you build in time and budget for project management between your client and a third-party vendor? What project management tool does the partner use to keep production timelines and deliverables organized?
  • Cultural Alignment: Does the partner seem to have a likeminded culture and work ethic? Are they respectful and clear communicators? Do you foresee your team enjoying the opportunity to work with them?

You can always expand your list of go-to partners, but understand that with each relationship comes growing pains and time to work out the kinks. Pricing, project management, workflow, quality of work and understanding the client industry or writing style are just a few of the variables that play into your partner selection. 

5 Ways to More Efficiently and Effectively Manage Vendor Relationships

Vendor partnerships are much like client relationships; they require attention, clear communication and professionalism. Treat your network of third-party vendors as you would your own team and clients. Always being considerate of their time, work and contributions.

Below are 5 tactics to help manage relationships with outsourced partners and service providers:

  1. Agree on Project/Service Details: Before starting a project, make sure both teams understand and agree to the specifics—project description and deliverables, pricing, scope and deadline. There should be no surprises once the contract is signed and work commences.
  2. Define Responsibilities: Each team should know exactly what they are responsible for on each project, and be held accountable to deliver on the agreed upon work.
  3. Understand Work Style Preferences: Talk about the production pipeline, workflow and project management expectations. Try to identify any differences or preferences upfront to avoid miscommunications during the project.
  4. Communication is Key: Make sure you are proactive in all communications. Clearly articulate your expectations, status updates and feedback from your clients. Don’t wait for the partner to update you or make assumptions that work is getting done.
  5. Be Your Clients’ Advocate: Along the same lines, you’ve recommended or selected this partner for your clients, so it’s your responsibility to make sure they receive top-quality work. If a deliverable isn’t up to your standard or considered “client-ready,” don’t deliver it. Always act as a quality assurance gatekeeper.

Having a go-to network of partners is a great way to bolster your agencies’ client offerings and supplement in-house capacity. They are also extremely rewarding and valuable, as they extend your knowledge and professional network of peers.

Whether you partner for project-based work or develop an ongoing relationship, establishing positive vendor relations is critical to the success and quality of the work completed. Not to mention, being a great partner will also make your agency more attractive to an expanding network of partners. 

MAI-CTA

(Above image: PR 20/20 with the partners, Stream Creative (@streamcreative), at the Browns vs Packers game, circa 2013.)