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The Good Vendors

Today I think I talked to at least three vendors we work with from time to time. It reminded me of how much I like all but two vendors I’ve worked with at MPOW (and no, you won’t hear about Those Two on this blog; they are part of MPOW’s past). I don’t mean “am willing to work with,” I mean people I genuinely enjoy doing business with.

The characteristics of the vendors I’m working with include empathy, a sense of humor, and a drive for excellence. They always surprise me by going the extra mile. Our usability specialist gave us a tremendous report last year. It could have been much shorter and I would have been impressed, but it was just how she pushes herself on these projects. Our graphics designer not only developed a new logo for us, patiently and with good humor walking us through the selection process, but put together a style kit specifying how to use the logo, its fonts, and colors. The people who provide our database and hosting are great listeners and teachers-by-example who take obvious and well-earned pride in what they do.

But one characteristic all these vendors have in common is one I also prize in people I work for: they are clear in their expectations. These vendors understand that part of business is the necessary drudgework of defining deliverables, clarifying needs, establishing deadlines and timelines, and agreeing on a price “not to exceed.” In the same way, the bosses I’ve worked for understood that the time spent planning and communicating expectations was time well-spent.

If you’ve ever dealt with a loosey-goose boss–or vendor–who had you twisting and turning (Am I doing the right thing? Why can’t we spell out the job more clearly than this? When am I supposed to have this done? When is HE or SHE going to be done?) you’ll know what I mean. I don’t expect either bosses or vendors to be perfect. But I can’t walk on quicksand. Besides, trying to guess other people’s expectations becomes exhausting. It’s also not my job to teach a vendor how to be a vendor, or to chase after him or her with pleas for deliverables or invoices.

With bosses, you either have to make the best of your situation or move on. With vendors, depending on your level of engagement, it may take a while to move on–but there’s always that option. It’s like any difficult decision: once you make it, you realize how right it was. (As I said after giving one loathesome vendor the heave-ho, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”) Your other vendors will shine all the more in comparison.

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