5 Proven Ways to Effectively Move from Vendor to Partner

by Alli Polin on October 24, 2017

They did what they were paid to do. Every week, the team parked at our curb, unloaded the mowers and mowed the lawn. Funny, nobody thought it was a problem that most of the lawn was dead. If they didn’t show up for a year, it would still just be dirt. 

I never received a call or email suggesting that the lawn company noticed a problem or could solve it. They were willing to come out and “take a look” when I raised the concern, but no suggestion that they were aware of any issue despite their weekly visit. 

Of course, fixes for my problems ranged in cost from a lot to a ton. “Too bad we didn’t intervene sooner” was their only comment. Now the damage would take exponentially more time and energy to rectify. If I wanted to proceed, I could sign on the dotted line within seven days, and they’d get me scheduled. 

Great! Where can I sign?! 

The truck showed up and dutifully fixed the lawn and pruned the trees. Problem solved. 

When it looked like crap again, I had to call again. Funny, nobody on the crew who came to my house week after week noticed that we were back where we started. 

I am their customer; they are my vendor… not my partner in lawn care. 

A lot of consultants, both internal and external, behave as if they too are vendors, don’t they? The problem is that they should be less focused on the boundaries of the contract and more on their partnership.

Vendors do a job for money; it’s a transaction. Partners do too, but they’re also invested in the relationship. 

Too often HR gets stuck in that transactional role as do consultants, managers, and countless others. If you want to change the way others see you and move from vendor to partner, here are five changes to get you started on the right path. 

What’s the trick to move from vendor to partner? 

Empower your people (and train them well)

Nobody on the lawn team went back to the office to share that my lawn was dying a slow, painful death. Why not? Were they afraid to speak up, didn’t give a hoot or simply not trained to share what they see with the leaders back in HQ? If you’re making a transition from vendor to partner, it’s not only you who has to make the leap but your team too – the ones on the ground, executing the work. 

Speak up no matter what your level. 

It’s a tired old saying that sticks around because it’s true. The most successful and famous leaders in the world still put their pants on one leg at a time. You’re not so different. Don’t be intimidated and let someone’s big title stop you from sharing your observations. Your insight or approach could be the key to success

Raise issues in service of success, not only more business.

We’ve all worked with people who are constantly selling us, and it sucks. One of my favorite partners helped me uncover issues and create solutions for problems that were not in their sweet spot – they simply had visibility that I did not. Partnership isn’t a non-stop sales meeting. 

Be on the same team.

My lawn guys are not on my team. Yes, I hire them, and they do work for me, but it’s all one-sided. It holds back consultants too: “I was contracted to do this and it will be on your desk in the morning.” When you’re on the same team, you’re not only delivering a slice of work but working together. It’s a mindset that’s transformational for your relationship. 



Sounds dumb, right? Everyone says, “Leaders listen.” The trick is to listen without formulating your next pitch. When I really started to listen to my clients, instead of trying to wow them with my smarts and competence, I added more value. I heard their concerns about the future and issues they struggled to mitigate. I listened, shared my perspective, and brainstormed with them – I was a trusted advisor. 

If I called my lawn service today, and asked if they wanted to move from my vendor to partner, and had suggestions on how we could make that happen, they’d probably hang up the phone and never come to my house again. Not every small business, consultant or manager wants or needs to be a partner. Do you? 

Ask Yourself: 

Do you say you want to be a partner and behave like a vendor?

Do you tell your client’s you’re their partner, but not tell your team they’re in it too?

Are you thriving as a vendor – and that’s good for you?

How can you build your relationship and not only your project scope?

Would love to hear about your experience on either end of the spectrum or making the transition. 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia Bazin October 24, 2017 at 7:09 am

Great post Alli! Such a great reminder for all of us to slow down just a little in life and treat people with kindness; that everyone has a story. To care more about the people that are around us, work with us, partner with us. People first!


Alli Polin October 24, 2017 at 8:49 am

Well said, Cindy! If we want meaningful relationships, we need to create them, not only stay heads down and get our jobs done.



Terri Klass October 24, 2017 at 9:58 am

I can’t stop laughing because we have gone through more lawn care services than I want to admit. Nobody is willing to listen to our concerns and needs. They just want to add new services and truly my lawn looks the same. So frustrating.

I love your post Alli because there is a big difference between being just a vendor and being a real partner. I love your questions too especially- “How can you build your relationship and not only your project scope?” I think that it is critical to develop a level of trust before we offer more services. And we do that by listening to the real concerns and issues. Right now I am trying to work with one organization and build a comfort level before sharing my ideas for them. A partnership takes time to form.

Thanks Alli and will share today!


Alli Polin October 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm

When I read your recent post asking if it’s time for a Leadership Rehab, I saw echoes of this one as well. We need to be willing to take the time to build that comfort and trust; It’s essential internally and B2B. You’re right, a partnership does take time to form and we need to stick with it and avoid the temptation to service and run.

Thanks for your addition here. Valuable!



John Bennett October 24, 2017 at 10:47 am

Alli – Such a great message contrasting vendor with partner! And, most likely, building partnerships means greater financial success as well. Win-win …

I just shared your post to our sub-division owners Facebook page. Ironically your lawn-care example describes perfectly the problems we’re having with our vendor (their attending HOA meetings is totally for show – “We want to be your partner.”)

We owners believe the overriding problem is that they see our lawn care as simply another commercial client rather than addressing owners’ wanting nice looking lawns. They don’t perceive the differences and don’t have a clue / a desire to understand and address those differences!!!


Alli Polin October 24, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Lawn services everywhere seem to create the same frustrations around the world! It’s not enough to say, “We want to be your partner.” It shows up in our actions, desire to seek understanding and flex, anticipate and respond to needs. Looking at my very brown, very dead lawn, I know they’ll show up to do their thing. Dependability matters but not more than giving people what they really want (beyond a mow)… a beautiful lawn, a green space, somewhere to be and relax… Until the deeper needs are understood and acknowledged, it will never go beyond a service contract with a vendor.

Thanks for sharing your story and experience too, John!



Jon Mertz October 24, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Think (and act) win-win comes to mind. When we move to a partnership mindset in many of our relationships, we shift to collaboration and better outcomes. Great points, Alli, on how to do this. Thank you! Jon


Alli Polin October 24, 2017 at 9:09 pm

It really does start with our mindset, I agree, Jon. When we shift our way of thinking, we’re able to shift our way of being and our relationships along with it.




Gary Gruber October 24, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Once again you have struck a chord which resonates. I think a big difference between vendors and partners is that partners pay attention to details and respond appropriately while vendors provide a contracted service and nothing more. For example, it doesn’t say in the contract to take some initiative if something appears to be not right, out of sorts, needing attention (which if not heeded will only cause problems). Vendors view might be, oh well, we only do what we’re paid to do, nothing more and if something goes wrong, maybe more business for us. Not so for me. I want a partner, not a vendor. We have all had people who only do what’s right in front of them, nothing more. Narrow minded, or I might, without denigration, call it simple minded. I want a partner with an expansive mind, thanks very much.


Alli Polin October 24, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Partners pay attention to the details and respond. Initiative! Big yes! It’s that responsiveness, flexibility, and desire to deliver something beyond the words on the contract that set partners apart. Like you, I want a partner, not a vendor.

Appreciate you and your insights, Gary!



Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ October 25, 2017 at 11:45 am

You summed it up so well Alli, “Vendors deliver work. Partners work together.” My long term customers tell me that I behaved like a partner and that’s why they brought me back over and over. They could see my interest beyond any current project. I am so grateful to them for the opportunity to serve.

Think service not business!


Alli Polin October 31, 2017 at 8:33 am

That’s why you’re the People Skills Coach, Kate! You get it.

With gratitude,



Chery Gegelman October 26, 2017 at 2:48 pm

I love this Alli! So many people don’t have an understanding of the value of partnering with others.

Yes – some may be lazy or unmotivated to do so, but many haven’t been exposed to that vision let alone how it impacts them – no matter where they sit. There are so many benefits to business owners AND their employees when partnerships are built and developed.


Alli Polin October 31, 2017 at 8:34 am

Big yes to AND their employees! Glad we’re on the same page!

Thanks, Chery!



Leave a Comment