Eighty percent of associations work with outside service providers to accomplish their missions. This was one of the key findings from association management company Smith Bucklin’s recent report on outsourcing. The study included all kinds of functions with the exception of audit and legal services.
According to the study, associations’ primary goals in outsourcing were to gain access to specific skills, supplement in-house staff or save money. As reported in Associations Now, membership technology was ranked as the top future outsourcing need, which comes as no surprise to us given that we’ve had a front row seat as many organizations discover their need for more advanced and flexible technology.
Whether they are in search of a technology partner or some other service provider, associations would do well to follow some of the recommendations for establishing good working relationships with vendors as outlined by Becky S. Corbett, who currently serves as president and CEO of BSCorbett Consulting LLC:
- Identify your real needs early and ask for help. You certainly wouldn’t be contacting vendors if you didn’t need something from them. You have an inkling and you know what you need. Let vendors assist you in peeling back the layers of the onion. Accept the help and create a true partner mentality.
- Trust your relationship. The request-for-proposal (RFP) process establishes the core working relationship with your vendor. Projects are implemented by people, and if you expect to reach your association’s goals, it is important for you to have trust in the relationship.
- Prepare your team for the project. Establish the importance of the project for your association. Create board and staff buy-in. Explain the “why.” Develop the major deliverables. Identify human and financial resources. Acknowledge the multiple departments and teams working together to reach the identified goals. Give authority to whoever needs it.
- Communicate: Be candid, direct, open, and honest. Provide timely, accurate, and meaningful communication with your vendor. If you are wondering something, ask. If you are concerned about something, say it. If you have an idea on how the vendor can do something more effectively, tell them. A five-minute conversation can help avoid miscommunication. Sometimes you need to step in and provide clarification.
- Assign an internal project manager/champion to the project. This could be a staff member or a third-party paid consultant who represents the association. The individual’s goal is to manage the project and be your eyes and ears. He or she reports to you.
We’ve given similar advice to customers as we’ve partnered with them through their new technology implementations. And we know from experience that the hallmarks of any successful relationship are trust and communication.