Say Goodbye to Vendors Forever

When I say “goodbye,” I mean “be gone.” Adios. Sayonara. Don’t come around here no more.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me introduce myself. I’m Pete Lerma, principal for Click Here, an interactive agency based in Dallas, Texas. I am new to ClickZ and incredibly excited about sharing my thoughts with you.

My first thought is about vendors. Specifically, about the relationship between those of us who work at media agencies and those people we call our vendors. We media people need vendors. We rely on vendors. We couldn’t do our jobs without vendors.

Yet too often we don’t treat those vendors very well. At all.

Here’s a story one publisher shared with me. She’d set up a lunch presentation. She called ahead to find out how many agency people would attend the presentation. When she arrived, she realized a couple of media supervisors couldn’t attend because they were “too busy.” No big deal, right? Well, about halfway through her presentation, one of the supervisors walks in to get her lunch… then walks back out.

I mean, who do we think we are? Do we think being on the agency side makes us better than our cohorts on the publisher, technology, or email side? Do we need a refresher course in common courtesy?

Let’s hope this scenario don’t describe you or your agency:

  1. A vendor calls for a meeting. The call’s not returned.

  2. He calls again. The call’s not returned.
  3. He finally gets through and schedules a meeting.
  4. He flies in to meet the five people who accepted the appointment. Two of them show up.
  5. He schedules a lunch for two. Five people show up.
  6. He calls to follow up on a request for proposal (RFP) in which he’s included. The call’s not returned.
  7. He sees the campaign on another site. The call’s not returned.

Now, I know we’re all really busy. We have much more to do than we had a year ago. But we can’t forget our manners.

If that little voice inside saying “play nice” isn’t enough to make us change our tune, there are always practical considerations. Not too long ago, if you recall, it was a seller’s market. Now, for the moment at least, we agencies are in the catbird seat. As you know, the market is coming back. If we don’t practice our manners, we may have a tough time getting what we need from our partners as they become busier and inventory gets tighter.

Notice I wrote “partners” instead of “vendors.” There’s a reason. The first step in forging a better, more courteous relationship with our vendors is to stop calling them “vendors.” How would you feel if your clients introduced you at an important meeting as a vendor? As agencies, we consider ourselves important business partners, working together with our clients for mutual benefit. As we wish to be regarded, so should we regard others. Publishers, technology companies, email firms… they’re all our partners.

I’ve got a few other tips that may help your agency/partner relationship be a little more harmonious.

Limit the Number of Meetings

Limit the number of partner meetings your team accepts on a weekly basis. This sometimes means scheduling several weeks out, but it should allow you to set aside time to attend and provide full, undivided attention at the meeting.

Consider a quarterly cap on partner appearances, too. Some partners would like to meet with us every month. We established a policy of meeting with partners once a quarter for relevant updates.

Respond in a Timely Fashion

Make a policy to respond to partner calls and email within 48 hours. It can be a hassle, but think about how you feel when a client doesn’t call you back.

Proposals: Respond on the same day to confirm receipt.

If a site doesn’t make the plan, notify the publisher and provide feedback as to why the site didn’t make the cut.

Show up, Physically and Mentally

If you’ve accepted a meeting with a partner, show up! I know, I know. You’re hammering away on a proposal to the client that must be out by end of day. The phone rings. The receptionist tells you your guest has arrived.

Stop what you’re doing. Go to the meeting.

Don’t make them wait for more than five minutes. (Hasn’t anyone ever told you keeping a guest waiting is rude?)

Once there, give them your undivided attention (don’t keep looking at your watch).

Participate. Active participation makes the meeting more productive.

Don’t Be a Jerk

Be a tough negotiator, not a mean one. There’s no reason to talk down, shout, or call anyone names. If you’ve reached this point, you’ve lost site of the objective. It’s to deliver something greater for the client — your partner.

This advice isn’t new. It isn’t rocket science. I just think some of us need to hear it again. I’ve seen agency people be complete jerks to partners, and people think it’s funny.

It’s not funny.

It’s embarrassing. Your agency should not tolerate it.

Your partners will work harder for you if you treat them with respect, appreciation, and tact. If you behave like a jerk you may get what you want — this time. Long term, those partners will over-perform for the agency that treats them like partners, not like vendors.

If you behave this way, think how you’d feel to be on the receiving end. If you know someone who behaves this way, forward this column to them. Anonymously if you must.

Changing the way we think about and treat our partners is a lofty goal. Together we can make the world (or at least the online marketing corner of it) a better place.

If you have tips for how to better treat our partners, let me know.

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