As a business, you won’t be where you are without your vendors. However, sometimes those relationships get difficult to where you have to have a tough conversation with them. For some of us, this is difficult if we don’t like confrontation or are afraid of losing their business. The good news is there are some tips for having harder conversations with vendors without burning any bridges.

We’ve put together five tips for you to use when you have to have tough conversations with a vendor.

Review your contract

The first tip (and probably the most important) is to review your contract. This can help both parties see what went wrong based on the agreed-upon terms. Reviewing your contract verifies that you’re not holding them accountable for anything that’s not outlined in the contract. All the terms and conditions for both parties should be outlined in writing. While verbal contracts are great, you won’t be able to recall the details and call them on any misunderstandings. Make sure you get any misunderstandings resolved with a formal contract.

When you do have a contract in place, review it to make sure neither party is required to do anything unreasonable. As entrepreneurs, we need to make sure we’re not asking anything unreasonable requests of our partners.

Tell them your concerns

A fault of human beings, especially in a time with ubiquitous technology, is being able to properly communicate. When these expectations are not being met by each party, it becomes crucial to communicate what’s gone wrong. If your vendor is violating part of your contract, bring it to their attention. This method isn’t meant to be aggressive, but rather to address problems and take corrective action.

That being said, you want to make sure that the vendor follows up to fix the problem. Make sure that they understand the urgency of your request and want the problem resolved as soon as possible. You want them to take responsibility for their actions and resolve the problem without escalating it.

Prepare a backup plan

Sometimes it just doesn’t work between a vendor and a business, leading you to part ways. Don’t look at it negatively — it’s no different than breaking off a romantic relationship or a friendship. However, only take that course of action when you’ve expressed your concerns and nothing has changed.

With this type of communication you usually get back one of two responses; either addressing your concerns right away or parting ways. If you have a feeling you will end up parting ways with your vendor, start coming up a backup plan to fill the gap. You don’t want to be left with an unforeseen vendor gap that will slow down your workflow.

Set clear expectations

Going along with setting up a formal contract, you need to set clear expectations with your vendors. Listen to your vendors to hear what expect from you and vice versa. Give them a chance to explain what their needs — their contentment matters just as much as yours.

Additionally, you need to communicate plain and clear what you want from your vendors. Don’t use complicated language to explain a simple concept. This will just confuse them even more. That being said, while you talk through your wants and needs, make sure you record the final agreement in a contract that both parties sign to which you can refer to if there happens to be a miscommunication between the two parties.

Leave the conversation with action items

When you talk with your vendors about any concerns, make sure you leave the meeting with action items. Whether it’s following up with them in a given amount of time, or set tasks for both parties to do, make sure these are outlined before both parties part ways. This makes both parties accountable for tasks to make for a faster resolution.

Action items give both parties something to work on to strengthen the relationship. They give both parties a better way to work together by both being part of the solution. You want to focus on fixing the problem, not assigning blame. Your vendors and customers want to feel like they are a valuable part of the partnership and that they are heard. Assigning action items is a way to make sure the partnership becomes valuable for both parties.

As a business owner, difficult conversations aren’t fun to have but are sometimes necessary for both parties. Through communicating, you can keep your vendor relationship intact, even during tough conversations. With these tips, a little patience, and a good attitude, you’ll be able to mend your vendor relationship in no time, becoming stronger than ever.


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