Meeting Your Match: A Guide to Building Valuable Vendor Relationships

09.12.2017

Guest blog from Ginger H. Gibbs, Director of Talent & Culture, Viverae

Finding and selecting the right vendors to partner with can make or break a benefits professional. Brokers, insurance carriers, 401k administrators, wellness providers, and more all offer valuable and essential services to you and the employees you serve. But even as the dust settles on the long and sometimes difficult selection process, your real task lurks just around the corner. The critical task of forging strong and beneficial relationships is integral to helping you get the most out of your vendors.  

This can be easier said than done, even for the best of us. Benefits professionals typically rely on our vendors to provide relevant and timely advice that can guide us through uncharted waters. But, squeezing information out of vendors can sometimes be like asking a moody teenager how their day was—not the conversational dialog you were seeking. In many cases, you may not even know which questions to ask, and find yourself blindsided by issue after issue, leading to frustrating situations, stressful days, and late nights working.

Wellness vendors in particular can be tough, especially if you’ve never worked with one before and aren’t familiar with the terminology and functions. That’s why it’s important to get started on the right foot, and build a collaborative relationship, putting you and your vendors on the same page from day one. Here are five tips to help you begin. 

Set Expectations: What kind of support do you expect to get out of your vendor? What do they expect from you? Do they take a consultative approach? Or, will they rely on you to ask questions and take the wheel? The answers may not be what you want to hear, but asking the hard questions in the beginning can save you some heartburn in the future.

Define Roles: Understanding who does what can streamline your communications with your vendor, and keep you from getting the runaround when you need to reach someone quickly. This is especially true if you have multiple contacts for various questions or issues. If Viverae® is your vendor, for example, you may need to talk to a Client Relationship Manger or a Wellness Coordinator, depending on what your need is. You also need to know if there’s a backup person to talk to when your main contact is unavailable.

Get to Know Each Other: Building an excellent relationship means taking some time to get to know more about your vendor. What is their day typically like? How much time can they spend on each client? What’s the client to vendor ratio? You don’t need to know every nuance about their business, but a general understanding can help eliminate misunderstandings, and can help you build a stronger bond with the people on the other end of the telephone and computer screen. 

Educate Yourself: Relying exclusively on vendors to provide every bit of information you need—when you need it—may sound like a dream come true. But in the real world, that’s just asking for trouble. That’s why it’s important to be proactive and do a little homework. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendor questions and learn what you can about their business and industry. You might also want to consider joining an association, registering for online webinars, or following a LinkedIn group so you can discuss relevant topics and discover any concerns you may have. 

Reset Expectations: Things change. Never assume the status quo will be maintained from one year to the next. New trends and innovations are introduced to the marketplace all the time, and new employees join your vendor teams. These are reasons why it’s important to revisit your expectations with your vendor and compare notes. Perhaps the vendor can suggest some changes to help you get even more value out of your relationship.

Vendors—wellness or otherwise—are here to support your business, and it’s worth taking the time to build a strong relationship with the companies you work with and depend on to keep things running smoothly. Rome wasn’t built in a day; nor are relationships. The suggestions outlined here should get you off to a good start.

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