Successful Client-Vendor Relationships

As a benefits professional, my phone is always ringing and my inbox is always full, thanks to friendly and eager vendors. I’m bombarded with calls from sales reps, emails about new programs, and invitations to “can’t miss” seminars. Am I aware of the new offerings from such-and-such provider? Would I like to hear more about the ways our company/employees/leadership can take advantage of this tool/program/partnership?

The short answer: Maybe. I won’t pretend to speak for all benefits professionals, but I’ve learned a few things about what makes a good pitch and what doesn’t, about what might make sense for our company—and what won’t.

Here, in my mind, are the three R’s of successful client-vendor relationships:

Reliability. Big names with long histories have a leg up here, but smaller, newer vendors can still get in the door, especially if someone I know and trust has vetted the product or service. I also use my broker and/or my consultants to do some research and ask around. If their review and assessment looks promising, then I’ll take a deeper look under the covers. Once we get past the initial review stage, what is the confidence level that a particular vendor can deliver what they promise? What are my guarantees that they will deliver and the repercussions if they don’t? Convince me –with actions more than words – that you want to be more than just a vendor to me; you want to be a partner that benefits from our mutual success.

Responsibility. A good thing to establish early on in any vendor-client relationship is—who does what? That is, how much work is expected of us, and how much belongs to the provider of the service? If the bulk of the work is borne by the vendor, I need to be assured that they are organized, timely and committed to the success for both parties. It’s OK if you can’t do everything, as long as you are honest about your capability to deliver what you think you can and then dedicated to following up on it with quality work. Also, honest, direct communication is a must. Check in often and ask for feedback (not that I’m ever afraid to give it, unsolicited).

Reasonability. Not every vendor is a good fit for every client, and vice versa; in my view the good vendors are the ones who recognize that. I want to hear from vendors who understand my business and the particular benefits needs of our employees. Be aware of—and flexible to—the culture of the organization, rather than relying on us to fit into a model that might not make sense for our company and our employees. In that spirit, bring ideas to the table (and often), because we are always open to hearing about ways to improve. But while brainstorming is good, know that “No” means “No,” and understand when it’s time to move on.

Other tidbits of advice to vendors: Disclose full costs and potential costs up front; don’t nickel and dime me later, because it erodes trust. Be available, but not a pest. Be my representative to your organization and anticipate my questions and needs. Work on the client’s behalf, and you’re on your way.

One last thing: Be patient. If I haven’t returned your phone call or email, it’s because I’ve got more than a few of them to get to.

Cyndie Ewert is Director of Benefits and HR Shared Services for Energy Future Holdings.