Treat Your Vendors Like Customers

Look up the definition of “customer” in pretty much any dictionary and you’ll get a definition that goes something like “a person or organisation that buys goods or services from you”. But smart resellers understand that their customers include another definition, namely, “a person or organisation that SELLS goods or services TO you”.

I’m talking about Vendors.

Look at most successful resellers and you’ll see that, amongst other attributes, they have very strong vendor (and often, distributor) relationships.

“Those relationships have resulted in more leads, better support, greater engagement, protection in key accounts, and recognition that has helped that reseller generate more business. I know … I’ve worked for, and with, vendors, and I can tell you how much we’re influenced by resellers we have a strong relationship with.

But those relationships aren’t developed by accident – they are nurtured as carefully as resellers nurture their customer relationships.

So what should you do.

Let’s begin with some of the key stages in a typical customer sales cycle, and see what that means when you apply it to a vendor.

  • Build a relationship
  • Uncover Needs
  • Talk their Language
  • Determine the budget
  • Develop a compelling value proposition

Build a Relationship

When you see reseller sales people at an end-user event, they are always close to their customers, paying attention to their needs, and generally being protective. But watch them at a vendor event, and there’s not nearly the same level of engagement. If you want to build a relationship with a vendor you should make the same effort that you do to build a relationship with a customer. Seek them out at vendor events during the breaks. Comment on the presentation content. Assess which customers you have that might be a fit, and encourage discussion with the vendor. Let them know about recent wins. Get to know them – people like doing business with people, and vendors (like customers) are no different.

Uncover Needs

Just like you ask your customers what their pain points are, you should do the same with vendors. Different vendors have different needs. Are they trying to launch a new product, or are they trying to target a new vertical market, or are they struggling with one segment of their product offering? Just like customers, vendors respond to resellers who they believe genuinely want to understand their needs and help them solve their problem.

Talk their Language

Vendors talk revenue and resellers talk profit; your language is different. And like with any customer, we need to talk their language first, before we get them to understand ours. Make sure your language touches on the things that are important to them (eg. new customers, increased revenue, winning market share, etc). Make sure that whatever you say has some relevance to them. For example, “our margin is being squeezed, what can you do?” is reseller-centric language. Whereas, “the margin we’re making on your product is below what we need to stay in business, and if we’re forced to consider another vendor, then that is not good for either of us. What can we do about our margins to make sure we win this together” lets the vendor know you see them as a partner rather than as an adversary.

Determine the budget

You wouldn’t sell to a customer without determining if they have a budget first, and you should adopt a similar philosophy with Vendors. Vendors have money set aside to help resellers grow their business. It might be called Co-Op, MDF, BDF, or a myriad of other names. The important thing to realise is that some of this is pre-allocated, and some is discretionary. Sadly, with prices coming down and margins decreasing, the available funds have also decreased over the years. However, because so many resellers don’t take advantage of their accumulated funds, vendors sometimes have funds that need to be spent before the end of quarter otherwise they disappear (not unlike your Govt customers). Find out what funds your vendor has, and come up with a proactive suggestion to utilise those funds to grow your joint business.

Develop a compelling value proposition

Most resellers have a very generic positioning statement that sounds something like “we’re a value-added service provider, focussing on people, products and processes to deliver best-of-breed solutions that increase productivity while minimising risk blah blah blah”. I don’t mean to sound overly harsh, but most are instantly forgettable. Find out why your customers buy from you (that means you have to ask them) and make sure you incorporate that into your value proposition. Find out if you have an area of expertise (in a specific technology like cloud for example or in a vertical market like health) and incorporate it into your message. If you can’t differentiate yourself to customers, they won’t buy from you, and if you can’t differentiate yourself to vendors, they won’t remember you.


If you’re looking to grow your business, vendors can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If you ignore them, they will ignore you. But if you nurture and support them, they will nurture and support your business. So don’t think that just because you are the one that buys from them that they aren’t your customer.

Treat a vendor like a customer, and they’ll help you find more customers.