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Two Views on Vendors

You interact with vendors every day. You do it in the context of specific, necessary functions like gathering requisite information, processing invoices, issuing payment, and answering inquiries. Your focus may be on just that. Getting those things done as well as your team and conditions allow.

Any thought of the actual vendor is merely a second thought. As long as they get paid and don’t cause trouble, they’re fine — and you’re good. But whether they’re having a good day isn’t your concern. Understandable. If they have a problem, well, it’s theirs, not yours. You have other things to do.

Here’s another view. Your organization wants vendors that provide on-time delivery of quality products with good service and attention to detail. It wants vendors that guarantee their products, vendors that are financially sound and will be there in the long run. Your company wants good relations with good, reliable vendors. That makes sense, right?

That is the big-picture view, which can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day work that consumes your attention. But that larger view is the context in which the day-to-day should operate.

Creating and sustaining good relations with vendors requires intentionality on your part. What does that mean from an accounts payable point of view?

The primary thing is paying on time and terms rather than late due to a lack of process organization and efficiency or for short-term (and short-sighted) objectives. After all, your organization agreed to the terms. Ask procurement. When you ignore terms, you break trust with the vendor. And in any relationship, trust is essential.

Then there is your actual interaction with vendors. How you handle that affects how a vendor views your organization. Do you address problems quickly? Are you courteous? Do you take vendors’ concerns seriously and look for long-term (e.g., process improvement) solutions, not just short-term answers? Are you making your department — which is an extension of your organization — the one that vendors like?

To do those things is to take a strategic approach that values good vendor relations. When that strategic view informs your tactical operations, you build trust with vendors. By treating them with respect, you gain respect in return. And you move up on the vendor’s “good customer” list, which has benefits like better prices or terms, and superior support, including ideas that can help your organization succeed.

And if at some point your organization needs a break—say, you really do need to delay payment—your vendors are more likely to work with you given the relationship.

So, when you hear “vendor relations,” think of it in that second, strategic view. For example, don’t think of vendor phone calls and emails as an inconvenient interruption of your “real work.” View them in the larger context of positive relations. 

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