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Vendor relationships have a mutual correlation to your organization’s success. If you do well, they do well and if they don’t perform as you need them to, then it will cause you major headaches. Just because you’re doing business with a vendor, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily getting the most out of the relationship. Minor delays can lead to major holdups down the line and poor service can lead to frustration and low morale on your own team.

Difficult vendors are definitely a risk that project managers need to take into consideration and know how to deal with when they arise.

Some signs of difficult vendors:

  • Disinterested or unclear communication
  • Inability to give correct estimates of when deliverables will be completed
  • Work isn’t up to the agreed standard
  • Constant need for revisions and returns
  • Missing agreed deadlines with no warning
  • Lack of follow-up support

Work on your communication

Some vendors may have a bad attitude, others may simply be bad at organizing themselves, whatever the problem is, when managing vendor relationships communication is always key. It’s fine being friendly and sociable when things are going well but when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to. To make sure you are in a position to address issues immediately and respectfully keep communication open and polite and don’t step back from that even if they don’t respond in kind.

Get everything in writing

A sure-fire way to clear up most problems when managing vendor relationships is to get as much as possible down in writing at the start. If the vendor relationship has grown on word-of-mouth but is getting unmanageable, simply state to them that for management or administrative reasons you need to establish the limits and expectations of your cooperation together and ask them for their input and sign-off.

Ask them what they need from you

Most vendors don’t set out to be difficult, often they might not know (or care enough to find out) if they aren’t delivering what’s expected of them. To be proactive in this situation ask them directly if there is anything you can do to help, for example defining the terms of your expectations better or assisting them with migrating to a more productive project management system. While it may uncover areas where you can help them to give you what you require, it is also a good way to head off excuses and put the ball back in their court.

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Escalate in a timely manner

How many chances should someone get? How many missed deadlines before you start getting irate? The answers to these questions come down to personal style of course but the old adage, “once is never, twice is always” is a good one to follow for vendor relationships. Don’t let things get out of hand and poor performance to become the norm, recognize an issue when it occurs a second time and escalate your language and/or actions at each subsequent occurrence.

Evaluate if their service is actually the tool or platform you require

When a vendor relationship takes a turn for the worst and there is frustration and acrimony on both sides, it can be a good time to re-evaluate why you actually need them. Not necessarily in the sense of finding a replacement but rather that maybe the frustration is stemming from the fact you are trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Sometimes the service you need and the solution they are providing might seem to match but when you look deeper you are not a good fit as you previously thought.

Don’t be afraid to pull out

Though not exactly a strategy for managing vendor relationships, getting out of the situation is an option that always has to be on the table. At the end of the day you are the client and while that doesn’t mean you should be unreasonable with vendors, it also means you shouldn’t be pushed around and be at the whim of their decisions. If your current vendor can’t supply what you require then you need to find one who can.

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