How to Make Better Vendor Decisions

It is safe to say that all of us at some point in our business lives have made a colossal mistake in selecting the WRONG vendor, supplier or even coach somewhere along the way. We have ALL wasted a whack of dough because, let’s be honest, we did not do or think about or say the right thing somewhere along the way. And once bitten, twice shy. We NEVER want to do that again as long we are on this earth.

Today I want to arm you with some tools that will help you the next time you are faced with choosing a new vendor, a new supplier, a new coach. Or even if you want to take your own temperature to determine if YOU are worthy enough in the eyes of your own potential customers.

I run a face-to-face networking group for entrepreneurs in my small town. One of the members is a communications expert with a very storied background in marketing, branding, advertising and creating. He has a short e-book with a beautiful chapter about finding good help. It accurately and succinctly makes the point that everyone talks a mean game but very few deliver. (All sizzle, no steak anyone?)

First the Suppliers: 

He gives five simple tips for interviewing potential suppliers. These tips will give you a sense of whether there will be a good fit and what real substance will be brought to the table. With his permission, I copied those tips here:

  1. Tell me about your background and why you decided to start your own business.
  2. Tell me about your core skill sets and how your ‘economies of scale’ work.
  3. Tell me about a couple of the successes you have had with developing (insert the specific skill or thing you are looking for) for small business.
  4. Tell me about how you are organized to service a business like mine, and the people who will help you do that.
  5. Tell me what you know and think, in general terms, about my business.

Use these when you interview your suppliers. Also consider them carefully when you prepare your answers about your own business for your potential customers.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is around the issue of choosing your best advisor. Frankly, some days it seems like an entire cadre of universities is happily pumping out coaches and consultants. Churning out experts and gurus on, well, everything.

Here is a relatively stock response for The Coaches and Mentors.

First, YOU need to be clear about what you want to be advised or coached about. Such as – where do you want to go, or what exactly are you looking for, or what exactly do you want to get from the process?

The short answer is choose someone who has ALREADY been where you want to go or done the work you need to have done.

Why on earth would I say that?  For two key reasons:

  1. Because you are investing in your future. Make the most of that investment. Save yourself time and energy. Piggyback on all the mistakes, failures and lessons of someone else who has already done everything that you want to do. That way, you can leapfrog past your competition, save yourself needless time, energy and money and get to the front of the line faster.
  2. You must ask one very, very important question. Tell me about your past outcomes and results and if possible, let me speak to your client(s) who are/were exactly like me. Yup. You want to understand the metrics and outcomes and deliverables that they provided for those clients so you can put into perspective how all those dimensions can help you.

Now for some of the things you must never do:

  • Do not choose someone who is in an entirely different industry than you. Do you honestly think an experienced master chef can help you develop your own landscape gardening company?
  • Do not choose someone who has only been trained but has NEVER run their own business. Real business bruises are needed.
  • Do not choose someone you have not interviewed. Need I say more?
  • Do not choose someone who is younger than fifty years old. You really do want grey hair on your side.
  • Do not choose anyone who calls themselves an expert or a guru. Choose those who have several decades of experience and admit to NOT being everybody’s cup of tea.
  • Do not choose someone who does not teach you a system or a process. They have no intention of teaching you how to fly solo; they are only interested in taking your money.

I believe a business advisor or coach is a trusted secret weapon in your back pocket, someone who takes your hand and guides you, tells you stuff you don’t want to hear and saves you from yourself and everyone else.

They have been where you want to be and can guide you on the fastest path to get there. Why? Because their mistakes will help you avoid all those failures and potholes.

Lastly, and perhaps most critically, they can help you see your own blind spots: the ones that are preventing you from achieving the objective and/or growth you want.

Now let’s talk about a few of the intangible issues.

There are no right or wrong answers. The truth lies in your heart and head. Do you fundamentally believe that all decisions are made on data first, emotion second or are you more comfortable with emotions first, data second? Do your values align with those of your potential supplier? Are they LIVING those values? Do you like them?

Lastly, let’s address the money thing. 

A good mentor, coach or ally is not dirt-cheap. None of us will argue that when we want something, find something that lines up exactly with what we need and want and is priced exactly or even higher than our budget we will go for it. But what if we have a choice between two that are equal in every way or we have one that is awesome but a bit more than what we expected to pay? How do we make that jump?

The best way I found to make the correct choice was to explain my situation like this. “I love everything about your offer. I really want to work with you; however, I must go into debt to buy your service and I really don’t like that. Please tell me why going into debt for your service is a good idea.” You will get your answer, I promise.

To your success!

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