Back in the day there was a client and there was a supplier. The client was like a big bad ogre with a purse full of gold and the supplier’s job, much like in the Jack and the Beanstalk story, was to find ways of taking that gold from the client.
Over many years this created a polarity between both parties. They knew their roles but their aims were often pointing in opposite directions. The client wanted as much as they could get for as little as they could pay, in as short a time as possible. The supplier wanted more time, as high a rate of payment as they could negotiate and were very aware of the drain on their resources of the bane of their life, feature creep.In time this established many a stand-off, late payment and eventual sour relationship. The client would seek a new supplier and the supplier would vow never to work with such a client again, only to find themselves back at the start line the following week.
Things have changed in recent years and there is now a good way to be a client that brings about a collaborative, mutual benefit where both you and your suppliers feel they are getting a great deal.
The first thing to do is to be open and authentic with your original brief. Remember that the more you give the more your supplier is going to trust you, relax and feel that they can give more at the outset without the fear that they are going to need to hold back their resources of time and people when you unexpectedly ask for more later.
Secondly think of your relationship as a partnership. Your suppliers aren’t actually out to fleece you, they are after a fair payment for their products and services and a great case study where you sing their praises because of the great experience you have both enjoyed.
Thirdly, set a reasonable budget for your project, campaign or purchase. There is a direct relationship between how much budget you set and the amount of resources, time, energy and focus your supplier will give to you. The tighter you squeeze the budget the more they will cut corners, reduce quality and think strategically about your relationship. They have to do this because afterall, you are getting what you pay for. We had a recent client who didn’t even talk about budget when setting up a project with us. The result is we set the budget and continue to be very careful to offer the highest level or professionalism, time and dedication to their account. They have empowered and trusted us and as a supplier, we have risen to the very pleasant challenge. They are getting the highest value possible and the very best outcomes without any corners cut or squeezing at any point.
Fourth, insist on regular (monthly or even weekly) progress reports. Most suppliers benefit from doing this anyway so they can keep tight reigns on their time, resources and priorities. Progress reports should be more than simply how much spend has been incurred, progress on the project timeline and objective results. Take a Balanced Scorecard approach and ensure both you and your supplier shares how they are feeling, innovations and new ideas, improvement suggestions to process and vitally, how the tiniest of improvements can be made to communication. Often a client and supplier has a different preference for keeping in touch. Some like the phone, some face to face, others email or updates in an online project management system. Ensure you compromise on both sides if you have very different preferences.
Fifth, keep a watch on the overall goals and objectives from the original brief. With many projects lasting months or years, it is easy for both parties to lose sight of the original plan. If your goals have changed since the beginning of the project and you forget to share with your supplier they can’t be expected to mind read, so keep them close and updated with the internal politics and subtle dynamics that affect your situation.
Remember that at the end of the project you are both seeking a great outcome. This is often more than achieving the objectives in the original brief. It can be that you need a legacy, a framework or template you can replicate successfully in the future. Your Supplier will likely be seeking a testimonial, reference, or case study they can use to attract great clients similar to you in the future. If you both remember this, then collaborating to help each other achieve your mutual goals will create a valuable and sustainable professional relationship.
If you are a Supplier, what other things would be useful to hear, share or see from your Client?
Your role is simple. Teach your clients how to be good clients. Think of your role like this, set great intentions and everything should fall nicely into place.
If you are a Client, what specific things would be useful to hear, share or see from your Supplier?