Supplier vs. Partner

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Getting the most out of your store technology

January 22, 2020


Many stores relate to their systems providers (e.g., point-of-sale or inventory management systems) as vendors. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, I want to suggest that stores have a tremendous opportunity for upside if they can cultivate a partnership relationship with their system providers.

A supplier or vendor is someone that supplies goods or services to a consumer or reseller (customer). It is principally a business relationship based on transactions. IGCs have an assortment of tools and metrics to determine how effective a supplier/customer relationship is.

A partnership suggests something more than a transactional relationship of vendor and customer. It implies something symbiotic and inter-dependent between two parties. In partnership, there is alignment of focus, common or complementary goals, and open and candid communication. The foundation of partnership is trust.

Investments Create Returns

Partnership is not easy, but it is achievable if both parties are willing and committed. Building and maintaining a healthy functional partnership involves time and effort from both sides. It requires each participant to view the relationship as something more than the day-to-day transactions. And for both sides, partnership is leader driven. Most often, business owners and senior managers have the perspective and authority needed to foster a partnership mentality.

The first step is a conscious decision to work as partners. This is a candid conversation that leaders from both sides commit to this relationship. The next step is making the effort to see things from the other party’s perspective. Partnership is only successful if both sides bring a “big picture” point of view. Day-to-day, each side will make concessions because they are willing to look at the relationship, not the transaction. This may result in short-term pain on both sides, but the long-term benefits far outweigh transactional concessions.

Tangible Results of Partnership (just a few examples)

If you can create and preserve a partnership relationship with your technology providers, here are some tangible benefits you can expect:

1. Industry Insight: With the right technology partner, you can expect that they work with many similar companies. Their business development team likely speaks with many other businesses who all share their goals, their challenges, and priorities. You may be surprised about the resources that your partner has access to. The questions you ask do not need to be related to that partner’s specific technology. They are a gateway for you to access information from other similar businesses. For example, you could ask questions such as, “What is the best eCommerce platform to use?” or “Which printers and media suppliers do other IGCs use to create labels and tags?”

2. Technology Insight: Technology is not static. Every system is a complex array of moving parts. Periodically, have a call with your partner to learn about what is going on with your technology platform, or with technology in general. What new features or functionality is being introduced or created? What customizations or enhancements have other IGCs requested? What trends are you seeing with how stores are using or benefiting from their systems? What tools have the biggest impact on other IGCs business? Don’t be surprised if your technology provider has great insights into what is happening today, and on the horizon.

3. Practical Insight: Most IGCs use a fraction of their system’s capabilities. It is always enlightening to speak with a garden center who has used our technology platform for a year or two. Almost without exception, there are capabilities and reports available to them that they didn’t even know existed. A good technology partner is in the problem-solving business.

Share with them and see if they can make a difference. If you have a strong capable partner, you will be surprised by what can be accomplished. If your partner knows what is important to you, they can be your advocate – even within their own company.

For some, this is a radical paradigm shift. But if you can create an environment where your technology partner is an ally and not an adversary, positive things can result. If you want to set one resolution for 2020, try putting a quarterly or semi-annual strategy meeting on the calendar with your partner.Propose the meeting with an open-ended question such as “Let’s discuss how can we both be more successful?” Use this meeting as an opportunity to talk about both of your goals, objectives and challenges from a shared perspective. Start building trust and see the ROI that results!

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