Building Strong Vendor Relationships

Your business may deal with dozens of vendors to obtain products and services, but they can be much more than companies that deliver to your back door. Vendors can extend credit in tough times, give you pre-market alerts to new products, help you reduce costs, and even tell you how you stack up against your competitors. Getting the most out of this relationship is about taking the time to make your vendor feel like a partner rather than just a provider.

Start with a Strong Foundation

Albeit a cliché, its validity is indubitable: treat vendors the way you want to be treated. “Start by being a great customer. That means being courteous, showing up for meetings on time, placing your orders in a user-friendly way and, above all, paying your bills on time or even early,” says Barney Cohen, president of Business 360 Northwest, a consulting firm that works with small and medium-sized businesses in the Pacific Northwest.

Make sure your internal processes are efficient and facilitate effective communication. No one wants to be the “hard-to-work-with” client. Cohen also suggests expressing an interest in your vendors’ business.

“Let them know how much their goods or services are helping you. Give them feedback from your customers. Write a testimonial about their products, if appropriate,” he advises.

You don’t want your vendors to hear from you only when you need something. In addition to providing honest feedback, also reach out “just to say hello” so you can build personal relationships with your reps. Simple gestures like remembering someone’s birthday can go a long way, and be sure to say thank you for a job well done.

“My favorite tip is to give vendors referrals that they can use as leads to other potential customers,” says Cohen. “If you bend over backwards for your vendors, they are likely to bend over backwards for you, too. Think of them as being just as important to your business as your customers, because they really are. You can’t sell what you don’t have. Since most products come from vendors, they are a critical player in your business success.”

The benefits of a strong vendor relationship

“If you think of your vendor only as the company that sells you ‘so and so,’ you are missing the boat. Your vendor relationships can be equally as valuable as your customers,” says Jennifer Martin, founder of Zest Business Consulting, Inc. and Conscious Business Owner Camp. As a small business coach, she encourages her clients to review their vendor relationships regularly.

“By maintaining a positive, strong friendship with your vendor’s sales reps and company management or partners, you create the potential to not only secure great pricing and excellent customer service, but to support and help grow your business in ways you may never have considered,” she says.

Potential benefits to a strong vendor relationship include reciprocal business (perhaps your vendor needs a product or service that you provide) and recruitment leads (perhaps your vendor knows the perfect person for your available position). There may also be an opportunity for you and your vendor to tackle certain marketing and advertising efforts together.

“Wouldn’t it be great if someone who appreciated your business helped to pick up the tab?” asks Martin. If vendors appreciate your business, they will become true brand advocates. Additionally, they are more likely to treat you fairly. “Sometimes this may result in better rates, more flexible terms, and having them go the extra mile to keep you and your business happy,” says Martin.

Strong vendor relationships will also prove helpful when something goes wrong. If you take measures to establish a healthy partnership, you’ll better be able to navigate the occasional—and inevitable—business hiccup, as your vendors will be as eager as you are to get things running smoothly again.


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This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.