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Are you a Vendor or a Partner?

Are you a Vendor or a Partner?

by john roman

7 months ago


This has been a hot topic of conversation for the last few months.  If you have had a meaningful, long conversation with me in 2022, there is a 50% chance I mentioned this to you.  

So what in the world am I talking about?  Maybe it's my B2B sales background, maybe it's my constant obsession with retention, probably a combination of both.

When we evaluate an addition or replacement to our tech stack, this comes up.  Is this company a vendor or a partner?  Sometimes a vendor becomes a partner, often a partner becomes a vendor. 

A partner adds or attempts to add value.  A vendor leans more towards a reactive approach and the self-service model.  Sometimes a partner becomes a vendor as they scale, sometimes they stay true to their vision and maintain the partner approach.  A partner takes ownership of an issue and pushes it to resolution.

Now, just to add some context.  This discussion is really only relevant to vendors/partners whom you spend $500 a month or greater with.  I could also see a strong argument that the number should actually be $1,000 a month or greater.


Why does it matter?  Vendors get replaced. Partners are a lot harder to displace.


I think walking through some examples might create some value for those organizations that are striving to be a partner.


Recharge 

We have been with these guys for a while.  When we migrated over to Recharge, they were no larger than 2 dozen employees.  We were their first decent size subscription box merchant (Recharge started in the ‘subscribe and save’ space).  The migration was rough, but they were committed to the relationship and pushed through it with us.  

Over the next few years, Recharge saw hyper-growth.  Their view on clients as partners though did not change.  Sure, our Account Manager has changed a couple of times through the years as their business scaled, but the relationship was always maintained.  

Let’s highlight some of the ways Recharge maintains Partner status to us:

  • We have regular calls - We look at upcoming renewals and previous renewals.  These calls are more than just discussing renewals though.  We have strategic discussions.  We talk about trends, what’s working and what’s not working.  The call is ‘bigger’ than just talking about how much we are processing through them.
  • The Product Team is engaged - As new features and products are being built, they are gathering feedback.  We are often placed in Alphas/Betas and we can see our feedback actually being implemented into future revisions. They care.  They know our success is their success and vice versa.
  • Additional relationships - Recharge excels at this.  We have multiple relationships in multiple departments.  This is probably due to the great job that Recharge does with its internal culture.  They hire team players and they realize ‘it takes a village’.
  • Our Slacks are connected - This seems trivial but being able to reach a partner when we need help or something is wrong is important.


MailChimp

Yes, we have used MailChimp for the past couple of years.  We were with Klaviyo for a short stint shortly after migrating to Shopify but also with MailChimp prior.  Before you start judging, just know that our MailChimp is not like a normal MailChimp.  We have had some custom integrations built for it so it’s beefed up.  However, MailChimp is a vendor.  A vendor that we give over $50k a year to.  Looking at the above reasons that we view Recharge as a partner, let’s look at similar reasons we view Mailchimp as a vendor.

  • No relationship - For about 90% of our life with MailChimp we have not had any account management.  We were recently introduced to an Account Manager, but this account management is NOT in the same category as Recharge or other partners.  There are no strategic conversations.  They don’t even understand our business.
  • Issues - no way to escalate, no point of contact besides general support
  • Product Team - Do they have one?
  • No regular call cadence.  I believe we have had 2 calls with them over the 5~ years we have been with them.

Such a missed opportunity.  Email is a core part of our business and a partnership here would create so much value.  This has caused us to make the decision to go back to Klaviyo even though we had a horrible experience with them the first go around.  We are chopping that up to growing pains and are hopeful this time is better.  I had once swore off the chance of ever going back to Klaviyo, but having ‘just a vendor’ for our EMS is unacceptable.



Last example, let’s talk about when a Partner starts the shift to becoming a vendor.  Sometimes this is due to scale.  Exponential growth is difficult; culture and vision sometimes change as a byproduct.


Gorgias

We met Gorgias at Shoptalk originally and then again at SubSummit.  They were a young, small team at the time.  We were with Zendesk which is a great example of another vendor.  Self service, figure it out.  Gorgias promised more than that and also offered significant price savings given the difference in their pricing model (charged by tickets, not users).  We eventually made the switch.  At the time, Gorgias and Zendesk were pretty similar with features and functions.  The main difference being that Gorgias was willing to help us set up many of the features and automations.  An amazing onboarding experience that had us firing on all cylinders (we never fired on all cylinders with Zendesk).  They started off as a true partner.  We had regular calls with them that always included some sort of strategy session.  For the first year or two, they felt very similar to how Recharge has always felt.  Then the growth happened.  

There is no relationship currently, which is a shame.  My limited communication with them this year was to tell them (at their request) about how we turned our CS department into a profit center (they had read this article).  They wanted to know more about it so they could market it for new customers.  


When I went to Shoptalk earlier this year, I actually met with some competitors to get a gauge on the market.  This is not something I even contemplate when working with a Partner.  To be fair, Gorgias is an amazing platform that our team loves to use.  However, if you are just a vendor and someone else has similar features, similar pricing and is potentially a partner…I am leaning towards the partner 100% of the time.  Not trying to call out a current vendor we use, but if you are reading this Gorgias, take this as constructive criticism.  Use this as a moment to reevaluate your current process and behavior.


At the end of the day, being a partner serves multiple purposes.  Let’s talk about one of the most important purposes, retention.  B2B or D2C, we all fight so hard to get new customers.  The same rings true to both sides when it comes to retaining customers.  It’s much easier to keep a customer than find a new one.  Keep your customers and do it by acting like a partner.

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