HR Roundtable: What It Takes To Have a Better Vendor Relationship

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Jun 5, 2019

The April (Cincinnati) HR Roundtable was exciting because it tackled a topic that both sides of the aisle grumble about – the “relationship” between HR and vendors. At one end of the spectrum, you have HR/vendor relationships that are solid, and then you have those who avoid either party. So, to get the discussion going the attendees started with these three questions:

  1. Why do vendors loathe HR?
  2. Why does HR struggle with vendors?
  3. How can we remedy this?

As soon as the small groups started talking, they dove into the questions quickly. It was obvious that we had hit a sore point for many, so the discussions were very rich. Here’s what they had to share:

1. Why do vendors loathe HR?

Typically HR says “No” but also can’t say “Yes” — This is an accurate observation for many vendor/HR interactions. When vendors approach HR, the most immediate answer is “No” whether it should be or not. The feeling that HR can’t say “Yes” is the old myth that HR folks aren’t the “real” decision makers. (We’ll cover this later).

HR is slow to respond — Vendors want to hear back from HR. They are in the business of generating sales, introducing products and services and closing sales. Timeliness is important when that is what you are tasked with. It doesn’t feel like vendors and HR are on the same time table.

Vendors feel that if HR would take time to meet then they’d get to save time later — It’s great that vendors believe in their product/service. There is a genuine feeling that if HR would give them time to present what they have to offer, then having their product/service would save time and effort. This may, or may not, be the case, but it is a strong point to share and prove out.

HR doesn’t understand processes — This is a big assumption. However, it may be the case where vendors feel that HR is in such a “gatekeeper” position that it may be because there’s a lack of understanding. Assumptions are never good on either side, but this doesn’t stop them from occurring.

HR isn’t a decision maker — Similar to the point above, this is a bad assumption. It may be true that the HR contact doesn’t have final purchasing authority, but don’t think that they’re already making a decision based on how they’re treated. Trust me. They are.

2. Why does HR struggle with vendors?

Vendors don’t really listen to HR’s needs — This is as big of an assumption as the previous two points. It may be based on personal experiences, but it’s key to remember that not every vendor practices in this manner. Every interaction should be reviewed and considered instead of throwing every potential interaction into one bucket.

What you’re sold isn’t what you get — It should be noted that there is a difference between a sale and performance. That is true for any product or service. It should be clear that what a company purchases performs. If the sale is only a transaction, either by vendors or HR, without discussing performance expectations, then it’s a miss for both parties. Don’t let any interaction only be based on a sale being closed.

I feel like I’m in vendor Tinder — This may sound a bit extreme, but some interactions feel like a bad date that is supposed to lead to some assumed closure. When either side feels used, then it isn’t healthy. Neither HR nor vendors should just try things out. That’s not taking into account if a product/service can help add value to the company as a whole. Avoid using each other. It’s never been good.

It’s not only about the sale — HR people want relationships with vendors. Many vendors “say” they want to know the company, can customize to fit your needs and be a long-term partner. In some cases, that happens. At other times, the sale is made, and vendors move on. This is a generalization, but many attendees shared that this was their experience.

3. How can we remedy this?

The hope is that both HR and vendors take these suggestions and apply them. It isn’t meant to be one side versus another.

Get to know each other outside of a set meeting — HR folks should have vendors in their professional network, and vendors should do the same. We can all be connectors for each other even if it doesn’t result in a direct sale in an individual’s company. You can’t have relationships unless you are intentional and are respectful of what each other does.

Remember that everyone’s time is important — Vendors shouldn’t assume that their time is more important than HR’s. Also, HR should understand that investing time in getting to know and work with vendors has value. These can be business relationships that result in the addition of products/services as well as great contacts to have on an on-going basis. HR also can benefit from being responsive with vendors so that they’re not wasting time.

Listen to understand instead of listening to solve — When HR and vendors take the time to learn the company’s culture and also the products/services being offered, then you can gain context. When both parties have context, then you’re more likely to make better overall business decisions. Don’t walk into meetings assuming some massive obstruction exists, and that’s the only reason you’d meet. Start from scratch and see where the conversations go.

Allow each other to walk away — Not every relationship works. Vendors who use a shotgun approach with the self-assurance that their product/service is a “must have” often miss the mark. Both parties should feel each other out to see how, and if, working together will benefit everyone involved. When this happens, then the foundation for long-term relationships will be built.

Look for how working together makes all sides succeed — Instead of coming into conversations assuming there are significant problems, try to show how what you offer as a vendor makes HR and the company better. This isn’t about how cool, or new, your technology is. Learn what the need is and see if what you have fits. Then, show how that adds value on both a short-term and long-term basis. When vendors make HR folks succeed in the eyes of the company, there is a greater likelihood of on-going and future business.

Be a part of the HR community — HR is a grass roots community. We talk to our peers all the time about everything. When vendors come alongside HR, that is shared in a positive light. When someone is trampled, that is shared even more! So, get to know the people who are in HR in local SHRM chapters and at HR conferences and events. The investment in your time will result in sales in the future with the partners that will make you succeed as well as a vendor.

The discussion for this Roundtable was rich when it could have been contentious. Both HR practitioners and vendors can, and should, exist together in a healthy manner. Hopefully, this helps each side take more steps toward that reality.