We all employ vendors, consultants, freelancers. Let’s face it, unless you’re a Fortune 500 company, you have to. And you should employ vendors. They provide expertise you do not have.
But how do you know if your vendors care as much about the result of their work as you do? TBH, they almost never will. In most cases you have agreed to pay them a fixed fee for a deliverable, or an hourly fee for producing a deliverable, and they are going to earn that fee on delivery. Regardless of whether it improves your profitability or not.
If you are a decision maker in a huge organization, or a risk-taking entrepreneur, you may decide to engage a vendor by offering them a piece of the action. If, for example, revenue increases by X percent, the vendor gets a piece of that. And conversely, if revenue falls below X percent, the vendor’s compensation may also be reduced. If they have skin in the game, they will care almost as much as you do.
But such engagements are rare. In an agreed-upon fee arrangement, the main incentive a vendor has to perform well is so that they will be re-engaged. Assuming that you did all your due diligence before you hired them — checked past work, got references, evaluated reviews, spoke with them to see if they were a good fit — how can you tell if they are a solid provider who wants you to succeed?
They meet deadlines. Have you provided all the resources they need in a timely fashion? If yes, then so should they. If they are not able to meet a deadline, they should inform you and let you know why. It happens. It’s normal. You might want them to provide good work a little late, as opposed to slap-dash work on time. But you definitely don’t want to be chasing them down to find out where the work is and why they’re not returning your calls.
They provide progress reports and updates even when you haven’t asked for them.
They admit it if they make a mistake, and may even bring it to your attention. They also tell you how they corrected it, and how they’re re-engineering keep it from happening again. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s human. But covering up, denying, or blaming others for a mistake is not a good sign.
They don’t try to get one over on you. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a vendor is doing this. Especially if you are at an information disadvantage. For example, when the car mechanic tells me what is wrong with my transmission or the dentist tells me why I need a replacement filling, all I can say is “I guess.” Or get a second opinion. BUT, if a vendor seems to be doing the same thing over and over with nothing to show for it, or providing something that seems generic, easily available, or outsourced, dig a little deeper. Where did this come from? How does it work? Can the individual who created it explain it to me in detail? If you have the resources, get a second opinion.
It may be that your vendors are just not great at communicating, so don’t jump to the conclusion that they are ripping you off. In many instances, we are simply not aware how complex certain processes are, and hearing about how things are done restores our faith.
If a vendor does something obvious, such as copying an article in the first page of google results and providing it to you as their custom solution to your company’s problem (as happened to me), then it is likely that all trust is lost. And when trust is lost, the engagement is essentially over, contract or no.
They care about the results after the product/plan/strategy etc. is delivered. They ask you happened. How is the plan working? Is there something that should be tweaked? How do the other stakeholders feel about it? Do you get the feeling that not only are they hoping for more work, they genuinely care about what they have produced for you? Now, that’s a good sign.