6 Tips for Dealing With Vendors


In my day-to-day role at Observe Inc., I work with a lot of vendors. I’ve been involved in all stages of vendor management, from procurement to rollout to renewal, for both software and contractors. The following is a list of tips I’ve found helpful when dealing with them. Whether they’re a SaaS provider, recruiter, web development shop, or more this advice is generally applicable.

Output is proportional to input

This is a tip I got from our CEO during my first month. We were dealing with a brand agency to design our first corporate logo and website and ensured they had plenty of material to work with. We collected examples of websites and company branding that we liked, gave them demos of the product, and spent a lot of time explaining our vision. You can’t expect someone to care as much about your business as much as you do, so give them everything they need to succeed.

Find out who’s behind the work that you like

Early on at Observe, I needed to find a contract writer to produce marketing content. This was a bit challenging because our product is highly technical and our audience is mostly engineers. I found excellent examples of this content and contacted the writers who produced it. Eventually, I found one that was a contractor and we were off to the races.

Figure out what scale you need

When I worked at Splunk, we brought in the “Big 4” accounting firms to help us with compliance initiatives like SOC 2. At the scale of a public company with thousands of employees and customers that made a lot of sense, but as a 15-person startup, we didn’t need any of that overhead. It was preferable to work with a smaller boutique firm.

Start Small

Treat all of your vendor engagements like experiments. What is the smallest deliverable increment that you can achieve to prove out the tool or company? Starting with a smaller project is more likely to gain institutional adoption, allow you to flush out kinks in the system, and determine how much you really need to spend. On the downside, your salespeople are very happy when they get a smaller commission check.

Start your renewal 90 days out

I once had a vendor double their fee for the same service with only 2 weeks to go before a hard deadline. Make sure you have enough buffer for your renewal. This is important so that you can shop around to price compare the renewal and get feedback from your team. Your license/usage needs will likely have changed so you need to get ahead of overages.

Be clear on your business goals

I’m always shocked by the number of projects I see without a clear business goal. These projects usually don’t get a ton of adoption and are one step away from being axed by leadership. Both you and your vendor should be aligned on what you hope to get out of the engagement.