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Vendor or Partner?

Being in the property management industry, you probably work with several vendors. But my guess is that you have very few partners working on your behalf.

What is the difference?  And why is a partner better than a vendor? Vendors deliver only the service they are selling. Partners do the same, but will go above and beyond to make your job easier. Not only that, but partners are truly driven to see your business succeed.

To spot a vendor versus a partner boils down to several key things. As you read these nuances, ask yourself – Will the companies I work with be just a vendor to me, or a true partner?

Answering the Question

When you ask a question, is the answer ‘well, that is really up to you’? This is the answer of a vendor, not a partner.  Of course it is up to you, and of course they can set it up a million different ways – but you want their opinion. Presumably, they have other clients who have faced similar challenges and should have some expertise to share. That is why you invited them in to begin with. Now they need to ‘show up.’

A partner will share the pros and cons of several available options and brainstorm the best way to solve your problem. The more time they take to get to know your business, and how to best implement their solution, the more of a partner they will be to you.

For example, I was recently tasked to find a new telecom provider for our company. During an interview, I asked the question of what the ideal network design would look like. One person said ‘well, that is really up to you.’  I frowned. Luckily, another party at the table chose to be my partner and went to the white board with a marker. We talked through several options and ended the 90 minute meeting with a future-proofed network design and a new partnership.

Providing Pricing

A vendor provides pricing; a partner provides a business case to take to senior management.

Several years ago, I was managing the decision process for a CRM purchase. One of the vendors provided me with pricing that was confusing and complicated. Another vendor provided higher pricing, but explained it to me and then asked questions about what I needed to include in my presentation to senior management. When I mentioned some of the elements that I planned to include in my talk track, this vendor provided slides to support their case. Was it biased information? Absolutely. But the vendor understood that I was pulling together a comprehensive story to prove to the senior leaders that we had not only done the appropriate due diligence, but that we anticipated their questions and concerns. The second vendor was clearly behaving as a partner and they won our business.


You might think that this is about a partner connecting with, and understanding you as a person. And that is important, but I’m getting at much more. A true partner helps you to connect with others by introducing you to people that might be able to help solve other unrelated problems.

Some of the most powerful conversations I have had involve calling a partner and saying ‘I know this isn’t your area of expertise, but do you know someone who can help me with xyz?’  My partners will always take my call, always listen to my situation and always try to point me towards a helpful resource. That service is infinitely valuable and pays off in lucrative and unpredictable ways.  One of my favorite partners fed my interest in Agile by introducing me to others in the Agile community and helping line up speaking opportunities for me.  Our relationship started as recruitment but we have both long since left the roles we were in when we met, yet we continue to send each other business and connections because of our genuine mutual respect.

Partners are valuable and sometimes rare. Vendors can be a dime a dozen. I am not trying to minimize the difficulties of selecting the right vendors for your business. I know that it’s hard. Not every relationship can transcend today’s business need and grow into an expansive long-term relationship. But that is what you should look for – and it is how businesses like PayLease work with its clients.

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