You might wonder if vendors and partners are the same thing. After all, everyone that walks into your office with a pitch talks about being your “trusted partner” or some variation of the same theme, as if the word “vendor” has some inherently negative connotation. At the end of the day, vendors provide a commodity service. That service may be as simple as keeping the copier full of paper, or as complex as a multi-year international ERP deployment, but you want vendors who are competent, capable and provide the service at a competitive rate.
Partners on the other hand provide advice and guidance, essentially the thinkers rather than the doers. They are paid on the value they bring to the table, and not a time unit. Rarely can the two roles be played by the same party without an inherent conflict of interest. When all your vendor wants to do is talk about being a partner and all the wonderful ideas that he has, all of which can be implemented (by him of course) for a low hourly rate, you have a problem. Similarly when your partners are trying to sell you implementations, hardware or software, you have a problem. In tough times, ensure that your vendors are going what they should be doing: providing exceptional service as the right cost, and that your thinkers are providing actionable strategies and plans that you can successfully execute. If one is not delivering what you need them to deliver, or attempting to stray too far outside their territory, seek another vendor or partner.