Lose the “V” word.  We are humans first. Relationship is Everything.

Isabelle Albanese

President – Consumer Truth® Ltd.

 

After being in a “client-service” role in the advertising agency, market research and marketing consulting business for nearly 30 years, I recently had an epiphany (don’t judge that it took me so long to get there!):  Relationship is everything.  You’re either in relationship or you’re “the V word” - a vendor.

WhatIs.com defines “vendor” as:  

A vendor, also known as a supplier, is an individual or company that sells goods or services to someone else in the economic production chain.”

A vendor sells. Oh no.  The “S” word. A vendor “SELLS” something to someone in a chain of supply and demand. I’m thinking cars, insurance, carpeting. Can you see how far removed the very act of “selling” is from serving? To me, this is pathetic.  It’s no wonder vendors can be replaced.  Easily.  Because being a vendor inherently means I have placed myself in a position to be compared based on rational, objective, inside-the-box myopic attributes.  As a vendor, I can easily be reduced to a lowest bid scenario.  I am one of many participants in an RFP. If my proposal doesn’t tick off the box and come within budget, I’m on the other end of “we have decided to go in another direction.”  Vendors are only as good as their last deliverable. Vendors supply.

Relationships are so much more complex and multi-faceted - rooted in emotion and visceral ties that can’t be compared from one person to another.  I’ve won projects and lost potential ones because of a relationship I did or did not have.  Relationships are built on experience, yes.  So, if I worked with you on a project and did a great job, you tend to like ME – as a person – as well as my work.  If I continue to deliver professionally and consistently and we also happen to get along and connect with each other as human beings, our relationship intensifies. Just like any non-business relationship does. 

If I’m in-relationship, I’m viewed from the angle of a broader lens. The prism of my relationship is both light and dark, colorful and grey, sparkly and dull, sharp and flat.   I am not esteemed by one project, one comment, one report, one recommendation, one bad judgement, one mistakeone deliverable or lack thereof. I don’t “supply” – I contribute.  And my contributions are considered to be a valuable part of the relationship, unique and constructive.  Not only because they like me or connect with me, but also because I have contributed to furthering their professional goals, objectives and strategic vision.  I have presented a unique solution or angle that provides a different viewpoint on problem-solution.  A vendor-supplier-salesperson cannot possibly occupy that same space.

Apparently, clients WANT to be in-relationship with us, their marketing and insights partners.  They don’t want to be “sold” to.  They want their relationships to be based on viewing from a long-term lens. One client-side verbatim from Quirk’s 2017 Q Report supports this – even while still using the “V” word!:

“Vendors are focused on selling and not on building a relationship. A sales goal is a short-term view. A relationship is a long-term view and more profitable.”

 

I have never considered myself a “vendor” or a “supplier.”  At the very least, I have considered myself a “partner” – someone who works WITH my clients toward achieving their goals.  Someone who is trusted to deliver on what I say I will do and who tells the truth about when and/or why I cannot.  These are the elements that have molded and colored the relationships I have developed with my clients over the last 30 years.  Some have fallen away, some are strong and have morphed into a personal relationship; and some are more tenuous and need tending to and re-building.  And even though a couple of my best client relationships might still regard all of us as insights professionals as “vendors” – I know for me personally, they mean it with the utmost affection and appreciation ???? and that I am likely to be one of a very small circle of “vendors” with whom they work.

When I think about partnership, I also must think about those relationships where I possess the client role.  I hire facilities to recruit and host my research.  I hire/use online and mobile platforms to find truths for my clients’ brands.  I hire accountants, attorneys, banks, realtors and financial advisors to provide expertise in running my business. I find I give repeat business to those partners that understand and share my goals and values; those that run their business in similar ways to how I run mine; people whom I just like to be around.

Here are the top three things that have worked best for me over the years in establishing a partner rather than a vendor relationship with my clients and what I look for in those businesses that provide a service to me or my business:

  • Tap into your inner girl (or boy) scout.  Be honest.  Tell the truth. Be trustworthy. Given that the name of my business is “Consumer TRUTH”, it’s a simple cost of entry deliverable for me.  But it’s also an expectation for all of us, no matter the name of your business.  Be honest and truthful about your findings, your recommendations, your supporting evidence, your capabilities, your experience.  Honesty means you have integrity and that leads to trustworthiness.  And isn’t trust the foundation upon which all strong, long term relationships are built?
  • Deliver consistently. Do what you say you are going to do.  Another given, but often overlooked.  If you commit to a certain timing, then be there – deliver – to that timetable. If you tout a technological, methodological or target expertise, then have it and deliver on it.  Be consistent in this delivery of commitments and services because this represents you and your business.  Good and bad.
  • Be Yourself. Be Genuine. You are who you are. You can only “do” you well. Your personality, your values, your passions are what they are.  You can’t (shouldn’t) camouflage them because then you wouldn’t be honest (see #1).  So clients – PEOPLE – are going to connect with you personally – or not, based on who you are and what you have demonstrated yourself to be about based on their experience with you. If your self-presentation is false, it will be discovered as such and cause immediate loss of credibility which can be difficult if not impossible to ever recover.

The important thing to remember is unless you are in true relationship with your clients – having a personal and visceral connection with another human being, you are merely a “vendor”, a “seller”, a “short-termer.”  Let’s all vow to lose the “V” word.  We are humans first.  We are partners. We are contributors.  We are emotional beings. We are in it for the long term. 

We are humans first. If we can’t be in a true relationship – by being honest, delivering consistently and being our genuine selves - let’s move on to those with whom we can find this state of relationship nirvana!

 


This piece first appeared on Quirk's Media: "Isabelle Albanese shares why she believes the market research industry should stop using the term vendor and focus more on relationships."