As an event planning, marketing, public relations and web/graphic design firm, we work with a variety of vendors located across the country. We have worked with vendors from audiovisual and ad agencies to talent agencies and caterers to meet our clients’ needs. Through these experiences, we’ve found that working with vendors can feel like a journey and at times require you to chart new territory. Although every vendor engagement has its own nuances, at IGS, we have found the following strategies influential in successfully procuring and managing vendors.
Before you start any journey, it is critical to map where you are going — including the landmarks you plan to visit and your route to reach your destination.
When acquiring vendor support, you must go through a similar process and create a “roadmap” outlining how you plan to approach the procurement from the perspective of both your organization and your client. To do this, you will need to ensure that you have not only a clear understanding of the statement of work (SOW) and tasks that the vendor will be providing, but also any internal processes and protocols that you have to navigate when working with outside vendors. It is an IGS best practice for the person(s) responsible for procuring third-party services to meet, prior to securing vendor services, with the project manager (PM) on the account (if they are not the PM), the accounting department and any other staff members identified to provide project oversight. At this time, IGS ensures that all parties have a clear understanding of the services needed, flags any internal standard operating procedures (SOPs) that need to be followed and identifies service expectations and reporting requirements. Things to consider at this phase include:
- Contractual and/or partner agreements
- Vendor approval processes (both client and internal)
- Invoicing and/or accepted forms of payment
- Level of engagement
- Expected deliverable timeline
- Certificates of Insurance (COIs) and permits
At IGS, we receive client approval for all vendor procurement roadmaps prior to initiating engagement with vendors. By doing so, we have been able to better communicate with vendors on behalf of our clients, streamline the procurement process and reduce labor hours.
Whether you are looking to secure a local, national or global vendor, it is important to explore your options. The success of your project depends on the time that you take to ensure all the steps outlined in your procurement roadmap have been taken. Even if a vendor is able to provide all of the requested services, pay attention to the quality of the product and services, ask for samples (if applicable) and read through any client and employee ratings available online. As a communication and marketing firm, IGS approaches each vendor procurement as a partnership and does a quick background check on potential vendors by reviewing recent news in order to ensure that a partnership would not hinder our client’s or IGS’ reputation.
Once you have identified vendors that are able to perform the tasks at the quality of service desired, negotiate. It is an IGS best practice to obtain three or more quotes per “vendor type” prior to making a decision — this guarantees the best value and quality of services for our clients. Quotes should be itemized to accurately compare vendor services in an “apples-to-apples” fashion.
Do not be afraid to ask questions and challenge rates. Be honest with vendors and let them know where you are receiving cost savings with other vendors, what your budget is, and what concerns you may have. The negotiation process can shed light on the type of customer service that you can expect when working with a particular vendor, so pay attention.
Cast the Sail
Upon confirming the vendor, set clear service expectations, milestones, deliverable timelines and level of engagement (e.g., weekly meetings) with the vendor. Again, it’s important to make sure that all items identified in the roadmap are checked and accurately communicated to the vendor. An action plan is one of the many tools that IGS uses to ensure successful vendor management and communication; it outlines all project deadlines, milestones and approval processes. Action plans are fluid documents that adjust with project change. They include buffers, final deadlines and timelines and are shared with both the vendor and project stakeholders, depending on the client’s level of involvement.
Ride the Wave
Once you’ve hit the ground running, remember to do the following throughout the course of the project:
- Check In: Some vendor relationships require more communication than others; nonetheless, it is essential to check in with your point of contact (POC) throughout the duration of the project to make sure that everything is operating as planned.
- Perform a Quality Check (QC): Make sure that all deliverables are reviewed and undergo a QC as outlined in the approved roadmap prior to submission to the client and/or dissemination to the target audience.
- Create a Win-Win Relationship: Once you have identified roles and a timeline for deliverables, foster the relationship. Although you may be in the position of power in that you are paying for services, maintain open communication with your vendors and request their expert opinion. This will make your vendor feel more invested in the success of the project and help develop a partnership and a win-win relationship.
- Establish Accountability: As previously mentioned, it is vital to cultivate a win-win relationship with your vendors. In doing so, you should hold not only your vendor accountable to meet deadlines but also yourself. Make sure all information and instructions are provided in a timely manner with consideration to the vendor’s internal timelines and ALL payments are processed on time.
Like most things in life, vendor management can at times be unpredictable; however, instilling clear procedures and lines of communication throughout all stages of your interaction with vendors will give you the agility to successfully navigate your vendor management voyage.