Maximizing exchanges is how I define marketing. Correspondence, conversations, commerce, and connections are touch points that serve and support the generation of sales. There are countless ways to approach marketing. For organizations who choose to “do what they do best and have others do the rest”, there are also countless marketing management options.

Relationships are everything in business. Marketing management relationships are no different. I have spent the last fifteen years (yeah, I felt old when I calculated that) working as a marketing vendor and manager of vendors (on behalf of my clients). Over the years, I have seen the good, bad and ugly.

Bottom line, marketing management is a partnership. It’s not you vs. them.  Success won’t come from an attitude like that. You have to team up to win. This post is a healthy “is this relationship working?” checklist for a) marketing vendors who serve clients b) folks making marketing vendor decisions and c) managers working with vendors to help you audit the relationship.

Your marketing vendor must provide value.

A marketing management vendor does work that you don’t have time, don’t know how or don’t want to do to help keep marketing momentum moving. It’s a vendor’s job to produce quality work and offer value. Your vendor should educate you, listen to you, and help improve what you have in place. Of course, budget can restrict what work is done, but money aside, there needs to be a justification for the relationship. Respect should always be reciprocal. If there is lack of understanding, then there is a problem. A vendor needs to own their work, be clear on work that is being done and listen to provide the best service possible.

I was on a call a few months back with a client and their SEM vendor. There was huge media news and the client said on a conference call to the vendor “we need to get more visibility today to get mileage out of this news” and the vendor started talking about content work to support SEO.  I stopped the call because the vendor did not HEAR the client.  SEO can take 6-12 months.  The client needed visibility immediately. The client ended up doing a paid search campaign and the SEM vendor lost credibility with a great client for not partnering better.

Providing value also means managing expectations. If your marketing team says they are going to do something by next week, well guess what? They better do it. If they don’t do what they said they were going to do, then they aren’t offering the value they promised.  Sometimes vendors get too busy (not your problem if they can’t run their business smoothly) or small clients get pushed down too low on the totem pole.  If this is the case, then your relationship isn’t very valued and it’s time to reconsider your partnership.

Marketing vendors should also be open to change. It’s psychology 101 when I say that people like to feel comfortable. This is true in working style. Sometimes marketing vendors tend to stay in their bubble/within their comfort zone. As companies grow, it’s important for vendors to be open to growing and continue complimenting the company they serve.

If you don’t feel valued or feel like you are getting valued, reconsider the relationship.  I am also the first to say to my marketing vendor allies that if a client is an “energy vampire” (what I call a client who sucks the life out of you and gives nothing in return) then cut ties.  It’s not worth giving time to a bad relationship. It cuts into your ability to have great ones!  Vendor value is also about speaking up when a client is being a danger to themselves or others. If a vendor knows a company is doing something that is a waste of time or money, then I think it is unethical to stand by without speaking up.

A marketing vendor partnership must be viewed as a partnership.

define parntership

A partnership is just that – a partnership. Read the definition twice. Partnerships require collaboration and constant communication. Both parties have to meet halfway. You need a partner that speaks your language and has a goal to help make your marketing better.

T E A M – Together Everyone Achieves More

You don’t spend on a marketing partner, you invest in them. A few months back, I invested in an interior designer to help me make the move from Santa Barbara to Atlanta. My interior designer saved me time and we were both committed to communicating virtually. We had a partnership. I would be lying if I said I got a steal on the price, but what I chose was to pay someone to do something that was not my unique ability and help me expedite the move-in process so I had a great place to work. Being on the client side is always awesome for me because it reminds me of the role I play to help make the investment I make work as well as it can. There were bumps in the road but I owned my part and also made a point to proactively communicate and was willing to be educated throughout the process. If you want a vendor relationship to work, you don’t throw in the towel.  You work to make it work.

The mindset of partnership is critical. When you think about a work relationship this way, it helps set the tone for an optimal experience. When I started my company in 2005, I made sure my contract was called a partnership agreement (not a contract). Little psychological phrases like this can make a big difference when managing a relationship.  When companies come to us and sign partnership agreements with us, we are in the mindset to become an extension of their team. We help, manage, provide advisory, and guide them to execute healthy marketing efforts. This includes partnering with other vendors, many times companies who do work we can do too.  We love the brainshare we have when we can collaborate with like-minded companies to help the client go and grow to the next level. I don’t believe in competition.   believe in cooperation.  Some of my client’s vendors who don’t get the “play nice in the sandbox” partnership rule up front get a healthy lesson in the power of “cooper-tition” from me!

Partnership always requires commitment from both sides. If either partner is not meeting you half way, then it is time to evaluate this relationship.

If the partnership isn’t working, break up & explore other partners.

If your vendor doesn’t add value, fire them. It’s that easy. You need partners who understand you, take time to educate you, and helps you and your organization make you better. And if they are not helping you improve (or are being dysfunctional), then you should let them go. The same goes the other way around. And if you are a vendor and the client is not doing what you suggest or doing things you don’t agree with (or doing nothing) then you need to let go too. A good therapist who is not making progress with a client lets the client go because they recognize that they are not getting through to them.

For example, if you are dating people who are losers and you go see a therapist and after 6 months, you are not improving, then a good therapist will let you go. They will advise you to go find another therapist who can help you due to the lack of progress with them. And you know what, it’s okay (and totally healthy!) to let people go if they don’t work.

Partnerships should be a pleasure.  Are you feeling the love?

At the end of the day, you want to be partner with a marketing company who will bring unique value, save you time, and who truly wants to help you and your business succeed. Remember, you have control of who you partner with. And, you have the power to control your relationships.