Prerquisites for a healthy client – supplier relationship

Client – supplier relationships are among the hardest in business, but it does not have to be that way.  Most of the difficulties in this relationship, in my opinion, come from coming to the table with the wrong attitudes and assumptions.  Here are eight common assumptions clients make about suppliers that jeopardize the healthy relationship:

– “The supplier will try his best to do the least for his money.”

– “I have to be – smart – and get as much as I can from the supplier before he disappears.”

– “All the supplier cares about is his company and getting his money.”

– “All I should care about is my interests, not the supplier interests.”

– “The more I get from the supplier the better.”

– “Suppliers, if left to their wishes, do not care about quality delivery.”

– “Supplier will lie to protect his interests.”

– “If I show them I like or appreciate their work, they will do less and become complacent.  I have to look like I am not satisfied at all times.”

-“I am the stronger side of the equation as long as I hold the money.  I need to hold the money as much as I can to get the most that I can get from this supplier.”

Suppliers are not above this either.  Here are some attitudes and assumptions on the side of the supplier:

– “I am responsible for the scope, not more not less.”

– ”  If I allow refinements even if they offer value, I will never hear the end of it and they will keep changing.”

– ” Even if I have an idea of something to be better, I will keep my mouth shut and just do my business”

– “The client forgets his responsibilities and focuses on me fulfilling mine.  That is all he cares about.  He can be late with his payments, but I cannot be late with my deliverables.”

With such attitudes and assumptions, it is hard to achieve success.

Clients and suppliers need to reconsider their assumptions and attitudes towards long-term mutual benefits.  This is why they need to ensure they fulfill the prerequisites of a successful and healthy relationship.

Here are some of the key prerequisistes for a healthier client – supplier relationship:

Trust: Without it, it is hard to have any healthy relationships.  You have to trust the other parties’ intent and abilities.  This requires that you are also trustworthy so the other side can trust you too; whether you are the supplier or the client, come to the relationship with good intent, fairness, willingness to learn and understand your role and the other parties’ role, and readiness to perform your responsibilities.  If you do not, then things will most probably turn ugly.

Focus on Value: The relationship is not about delivering features, or nitpicking thousands of pages of documents.  The intent is to deliver value.  Focus on that value.  Make sure it is clear.  Make sure it is delivered.  Work of the project is not about scope.  What they taught us in theoretical books is wrong.  It is about value.  Anything else is a waste of time.  If you have a better idea as a supplier, but you are worried that it will take you out of scope and cost you more, discuss it openly with your client and tell them your concerns.  I have never done that with a client, no matter how tough they were and was disappointed.  A client always appreciates candidness and the eager want on the part of the supplier to provide value.  Try it.

Be realistic: You cannot have it all, as the saying goes; if you hired the least expensive supplier out there because you wanted to save money, do not expect them  to deliver beyond their abilities.  There is a reason they are the cheapest.  If you hired a supplier and you are in a hurry to get them on the ground working, do not expect them to immediately deliver perfection.  Hastiness will yield mistakes.  Expect and accept that.  If you insist on perfection in delivering the scope of the work, expect that to take time.  So, you as a client need to be more tolerant of delays.

Clarity: Do not “kick the can,” and delay confrontation of issues until later.  That does not work most of the time.  Be clear about issues you are facing or worried about.  Have a clear issues log and risks log.  Informally, not only formally, discuss with client or supplier, opportunities, issues, action needed, ideas, etc.  Make them a partner, not an adversary.

Win-Win: Think and act based the long-term goals of building relationships, fulfilling mission, partnership towards a common goal, etc.  Everyone can aspire to things beyond short-term monetary or other gain.  Always think of mutual benefit, fairness, and cooperation.  Suppliers and clients all need help achieving their goals.  Neither can win long-term without caring about the other side.

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