How to Have Meaningful End-of-Year Vendor Meetings - Virtually As we approach the new year, many of us will be meeting with vendors to reflect and plan a path forward. Here's how to ensure they'll be productive for everyone.

By David Partain Originally published

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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If you're like most business leaders, then you likely have at least a handful of vendors who support your business with services or products. And just as you do with your employees, you need to meet with those vendors periodically to celebrate your relationship and talk about what you can improve together. If you follow some key principles, those meetings can be significantly more meaningful — even when done remotely.

Related: 3 Things We Did That Saved My Company From Meetings Hell

The importance of a champion

Let's be realistic. There are only so many hours in the day. So as an executive or manager, you might not be able to go to every vendor meeting, even if you'd like to. In these situations, turn to someone in your firm who can act as a champion for you. Ideally, this champion should be the person who brought the vendor into your business. But regardless, they should believe in the relationship you have with that vendor.

A champion is going to care enough about the work with the vendor to get deeply involved. They're going to see themselves as having a really active role in what happens, as if they have some influence as a partner, rather than as being stuck with the work or just going through the motions based on what others want.

When you have someone like this interacting with the vendor in your end-of-year meetings, then the vendor is going to see that the investment from your business goes beyond just money. You can talk about and make plans based on shared values and a real sense of unified purpose, rather than just focusing on numbers and technicalities.

Delivering physical connection

With a virtual vendor meeting, you're limited in terms of physical interactions. But you can still encourage a deeper sense of connection through physical sharing. One of the easiest ways to do this is to share a meal. Virtually everybody enjoys having something to eat, and it's such a basic activity that people can let their guard down a little. Have some food catered to your participants to say thanks for all the great work that's happened.

You can spend a little money on other physical gifts, too. For example, in my business, vendors always give us items that have their logos. But now we're reciprocating and giving them things with our logo so they can feel like they're more part of us, too. The trick is just to think about what the vendors are like and would appreciate. Go beyond generic. Make your choice meaningful to their needs and try to reflect on the shared goals/values you have with them.

Limiting surprises

Ideally, you should be meeting with your vendors throughout the entire year. Maybe that's quarterly, for example, like my company does with our ad agency, or maybe it's once a month, the way we do with our technology firms. It depends on the situation, the number of people involved, and how complex the work has to be.

As far as the big picture goes, what you really want is for your vendor to feel like they're part of you and your team. If you achieve that, then they can put their best people on your account and get work done quickly for you. You might have to be flexible and figure out when the most appropriate time to get together really is, especially with the increasing complexity of the new remote reality. But the more meetings you have, the more opportunities you have to get to know each other, review what's going on, and bring any issues out into the open.

So periodic check-ins, just like you'd have with your employees, are a good thing. Everybody should have a sense of expectations and be on the same page. This way, when you get together at the end of the year, you're either prepared to dig into remaining concerns in a productive way, or you can truly celebrate together and pat each other on the back for everything that's been resolved and accomplished. If you've worked hard together all year, any issues that are left should be minimal and you can focus on having fun.

Related: 7 Ways to Recover From Too Many Online Meetings During the Day

End-of-year vendor meetings are a lot like reviews you have with your team. They give you a chance to connect, improve, and celebrate. Making them effective in a virtual setting takes a little care, even so. Getting together more regularly through the year, finding unique ways to share tangible gifts, and finding someone who can be a strong advocate all matter. Put those puzzle pieces into place to ensure your vendor relationships stay strong even through the digital future.

Wavy Line
David Partain

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CMO of FlexShares

David Partain is SVP of Northern Trust and CMO of their subsidiary, FlexShares Exchange Traded Funds. He has over 15 years of marketing, sales and finance expertise and was named one of the "20 Rising Stars in Finance" by the Gramercy Institute.

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