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5 signs you should end your vendor relationship

5 signs you should end your vendor relationship Joel Breen

Ending a relationship is the worst. Knowing when to walk away from your partner is one of the toughest things to identify, and long-term relationships -- the ones you've devoted weeks, months, even years to -- can be especially hard to know when to end.

Sure, you might be growing tired of the routine, your partner never really surprises you anymore, and you're finding yourself constantly thinking about what else is out there for you. Yet the moment the notion of breaking up even enters your mind, you begin to remember the long nights together, the shared excitement of trying new things, the ways you pushed each other to be better, the lunches, the gifts -- even the arguments and petty disagreements. It all adds up to a relationship that's followed you from one organization to another, becoming that safe place for you to go when you feel the pressure pushing down on you.

5 signs your vendor is screwing you over

Yes, it's a difficult decision, and an even more difficult discussion, but sometimes a breakup needs to happen in order for you to continue to grow and become the best version of you that you can be.

As a marketer, it's your job to deal with underperforming media vendors. There are times you'll have to coach vendors whose performance isn't quite up to par, confront vendors who aren't pulling their weight, and even put a vendor under review as a way to drive performance improvement. But there are also times when your efforts won't be enough -- and when the best approach isn't to spend more energy trying to help a difficult vendor turn around. Then it's time to have "the talk."

Since media vendors work on your behalf, they should always be working in your best interests. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. And for a long-standing relationship, it's very easy to ignore the warning signs, especially for old times' sake. So how do you know when it's the right time to divorce your media partner? What are the signs that the relationship is on the rocks?

Your partner's commitment has faded, and the honeymoon is over

Remember the person you started the relationship with all those years ago? That exciting and energetic go-getter you wanted to partner with? Where is that person now? That individual has likely moved up in the organization, doing bigger and better things. Good for him or her, but in the meantime, your business is suffering for it. Now the vendor just isn't giving you the level of service or support you got when the relationship started. Maybe you're on your fifth account manager in two years, which means you have to constantly educate these newbies on your business objectives. Sure, that original rep might swoop in from time to time, bringing gifts or taking you and the team to lunch. But where are they when you really need them?

If you have a rotating cast of account reps or your support team changes more often than the weather, you should question how much your vendor values your relationship. You want a long-term commitment, not 50 first dates.

So what should you look for in a vendor? Seek out a partner who's interested in your business objectives and constantly asking questions about how to help you achieve your goals. It's amazing how far paying attention and asking the right questions will go. Also look for a vendor who can share long-term references -- clients that have been with them for more than a year. Ask these client references about the vendor's account teams, their accountability to the clients' business objectives, and how the vendor stays abreast of their specific industry challenges.

Additionally, be vocal up front with a potential new vendor. Tell them what you want and expect from a partner. Don't be afraid to state that you want commitment. Let them know you're not looking for a series of quick hits; you want someone you can rely on when times get tough.

Your partner is secretive and unreliable

Excuse after excuse. Your rep's cellphone died. The phone didn't ring. Your emails ended up in the spam folders. The deliverables were late because they were caught in the outbox. When the excuses start piling up, ask yourself: If you can't rely on your partner, why are you still together?

When it comes to establishing and maintaining a good partnership, accountability and transparency are crucial. You and your vendor are a team, and if your teammate is constantly bristling or stalling when you ask for more information, something is wrong. Your vendor and your performance data should be an open book to you. Your vendor is facilitating your campaign; it does not own it, and the moment your vendor makes you feel terrible for asking for your own data, it's time to call it quits.

Transparency doesn't just apply to data; it also applies to costs. If a vendor quotes you a price and immediately drops it significantly when you begin to question its validity, the company was screwing you in the first place.

One way to ensure that everyone is aligned on the overall business objective is to work with a partner who's non-commissionable. When a partner or vendor doesn't mark up the media, you can be sure that when it recommends a strategy or a new ad unit, it's because their team feels it will benefit your campaign performance. Conversely, if compensation is tied to your media investment, how do you know that the vendor's recommendations have your best interests in mind?

When working with a new vendor (or even an old one), you should be sure that all parties involved are clear about expectations and agree on timelines. Hold your vendors accountable. Find a vendor who's willing to have open conversations about challenges and opportunities, as well as costs.

Remember that information sharing is central to a successful partnership. Ultimately, it's your data, and when you ask to review it, you shouldn't be made to feel guilty or have to wait through a painfully slow process to get access to it. When you're interviewing new vendors, ask about data-sharing processes.

Finally, in your initial conversations with a vendor, make sure the company is crystal clear about whether it operates on a non-commissionable or a commissionable model. If it's commissionable, ask how the company will ensure that its recommendations are based on your specific business needs, and not on where the vendor makes the most money. Consider this heavily in your purchasing decision.

Your partner's measurement and attribution plan doesn't meet your needs

Everyone talks about measurement and reporting. But what does that really mean? Sure, a vendor can tell you what happened within its system. But what about when the traffic got to your site? Did your partner discuss what you wanted to measure up front? Did your partner even look at your site? If your vendor doesn't provide a tagging and measurement strategy or ask to participate in setting up goals before the campaign launches, that's a huge red flag, especially if the campaign's not performing and the vendor says you aren't spending enough. When that happens, you've got a major problem.

Data-driven decisions are imperative for a successful campaign. A good partner provides a strategy, discusses the overall campaign, and establishes business goals that are measurable and drive the right results. If your partner's giving you arbitrary metrics you can't easily decipher and use to make a business decision, just throw the report away because it's useless.

Your partner wants to stay in a silo and refuses to meet your other friends

When it's just the two of you, it's all passion and excitement. But when you suggest meeting some of your other partners, it gets all distant and weird. Your partner drops the conversation and never seems to have time to join you and meet anyone new.

If you're working on a marketing strategy -- coming up with all the goals and objectives, creating the plan -- and your vendor isn't open to trying new things or new channels, then it's time to start looking around for a new partner. With all the different marketing platforms available, it's important for media solutions to be integrated well with other media platforms/solutions. If your media vendor doesn't play well with others, you're in for big trouble.

Why? Because consumers don't live in silos; they're engaging with all types of media, switching from platform to platform all day long. So in order to effectively reach your consumers, you and your partner have to think outside the silo, which can require involving other partners in the conversation. If your partner refuses to engage in those discussions, it shows the company is so invested in its own business objectives that its willing to sacrifice yours. You should be constantly asking for case studies around how your vendors partner and integrate with other platforms. If they don't have any examples, it's time to start looking for someone who does.

Your partner doesn't think you're special

You're having Italian for dinner -- again -- and you're watching "Top Gun" for the 57th time. Really? This routine is getting suffocatingly stale. You crave novelty. You want to try new things. Isn't variety the spice of life?

You wouldn't be satisfied with chicken parm every night. So why do you accept it when your media partner keeps bringing you the same solution, no matter what the objective is? If you begin to notice that your vendor's solutions are essentially the same old plan over and over again, it's time to see what else the world has to offer.

A good partner should always bring new thinking to the table, offering ideas that are relevant to your campaign. Video pre-roll and homepage takeovers are not always the solution. Programmatic does not always apply. Owning the GDN is almost never the answer. Every campaign is different, and every client has its own objective, so there's no way that a one-size-fits-all solution can work every time. If you keep seeing the same plan, just with a different client's name on it, your partner has stopped trying. The company is not putting in enough effort to make the relationship work.

So how do you avoid this? Constantly ask your vendor to demonstrate its ability to deliver customized solutions. In a converging media world, with technology constantly evolving, it's important to find flexible solutions. Challenge your vendor to show you something new, and ask it to tie all recommendations back to the particular client's business objectives. If the company can't do it, move on.

It's never pleasant to think about ending a relationship. But if you've already tried to change the dynamic -- if you've given your partner multiple opportunities to improve performance through direct feedback, if you've provided a formal performance review -- and the problems remain, you should probably terminate the partnership. It's in the best interests of your team, your client, your organization, and even the vendor to part ways before permanent damage is done.

If you see any of these five warning signs, it's time to make the tough call and do what's best for your business in the long run. Just remember: It's not you -- it's them.

Joel Breen is VP of search and performance marketing at AMP Agency.

Elaine Tocci, VP of media at AMP Agency, contributed to this article.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Arguing couple" image via Shutterstock.

As Vice President of Search and Performance marketing at AMP Agency, Joel leads the development and execution of strategic, interactive solutions for our clients across a range of channels. Breen has over 17 years experience in Digital/New Media,...

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