Before we gained the capability to connect with each other online, how in the world did we develop our business relationships with collaborators? We had to depend on word of mouth, referrals, pen and paper proof to make decisions on which vendors we should choose to work with - looking back, it seems so simple, so direct.
Now, at the click of a button, we have the ability to call up thousands of listings for companies whose sites contain keywords that match our search terms. While Google may seem like a treasure trove of expertise, it can actually feel like getting blasted by a firehose. Choice paralysis is real - especially when you’re bombarded by hundreds of vendors telling you that they have exactly what you need via their websites, promoted ads on social media, or cold outreach (have you ever gotten that email or LinkedIn message saying ‘you don’t know me, but I can help you with your xyz’?). There are agencies shouting from the rooftops that they can solve all of your challenges. They’ll provide development, branding, social media management and then they’ll clean the grout in your bathtub ... and while all of that may seem appealing, it also sounds too good to be true. Your business demands due diligence - you’ll be spending a lot of time with this vendor, whether virtually, on the phone, or in person, and they’ll hold the success or failure of your business in their hands. This isn’t just a fling, this is a serious relationship.
With the knowledge that you’ll have a ton of inputs, plus advice from peers and friends, how can you make the best choice for your business? If you begin with finding common ground, you can easily filter out at least some of the noise. We believe there are three key areas where being on the same page will yield the best results for both client and vendor. As you search for your ideal vendor, here are some jumping off points for discussion:
- Before your first meeting, review the vendor’s website to see if they list core values, company mission and vision. See where you find synchronicity and address any potential disconnects.
- When you meet, have an honest conversation about where you each stand; if your values don’t match up, there’s no common ground from which to start working together.
- Listen to your gut - if, during exploratory conversations, you get the feeling it’s not a good match, start the process with the next in line.
Complementary processes and preferences
- Especially if you’re setting technical deliveries, this is an area where you’ll want to understand the same language.
- Talk frankly about collaboration tools and platforms. Will they assign a dedicated project manager to keep timelines tight? How do they typically communicate, and what are the expectations?
- Ask yourself if you would be willing to improve your processes if there were a better, more efficient and elegant way? If your vendor could add value in that area, would that help you?
A shared vision
- Take a hard look at your roadmap - short- and long-term plans and goals - and make an honest assessment about how this vendor could fit into the future of your business.
- Is this a short-term, transactional project? Or are you looking for a partner to support you through multiple growth phases of your business? Are you working on something that needs to scale quickly, in an agile environment, or is it something that can take its time?
- How will your technology needs change over time?
A few weeks ago, we were connected to a fantastic startup developing an app that simplifies food labels for consumers. We scheduled an exploratory call and chatted about values (both ours and theirs) and the capabilities we believed we could bring to the table. In terms of values and leadership, we felt very much aligned. While we were excited about the project, we then found out they are looking for a new CTO. Their immediate needs coupled with our specialties probably would have brought them in a new direction on the project. With that realization, we suggested that a significant change of direction like that just wouldn't make sense until the CTO was in place. So instead, we’re keeping our eyes open for a great CTO fit for them and looking forward to reconnecting in the future on the project!
A great vendor will point out when they’re not the ideal fit, and even help to guide you towards a better option. This benefits both parties - you will have built a relationship with a vendor that you can trust, even if you’re not ready to work together right now, and the vendor knows they have added value to your business even if they weren’t your perfect partner.
The best vendor match for you will align with your company values, be able to adapt to your preferences and even add value to your processes with suggested improvements, and have the capability to support you as you scale your business. There is no one-size-fits all or perfect match here; you have to evaluate each vendor against to what is best for your business. Values alignment is just one piece of the puzzle - add integrity and open communication, and you’ll easily keep the relationship on track.