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Relationship therapy with your supplier?!

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The relationship between a customer and his supplier is sometimes compared to a marriage. Besides the formal aspects, which are contractually defined in the prenup, both partners have several implicit expectations towards one another. Regardless of the nature of the service: albeit the development of a custom application, the implementation of a large commodity product, or something else entirely.

The expectations of the customer concern issues such as quality, costs, and the realisation of the business case. The supplier experiences a similar interplay of interests. Next to providing the delivery of a qualitatively good service, his concerns regard revenue, margins, and further development of the account. A lot of these affairs can and will be addressed during the sales process, however ample remains implicit in the relationship.

Seeking the conversation

As for any relationship, the customer-supplier relation is built upon mutual trust and sometimes a healthy dose of suspicion. When the honeymoon is over, small annoyances will always arise: issues about which you did not make any contractual agreements in your prenup. Another factor that can generate irritations is the fact that both partners will walk a different path of personal development during the relationship.

What is the course of action in such a situation? Will you be pointing fingers? Will disillusion rule? Are all suppliers the same? Do you not deserve better? Or will you seek the conversation to find bottlenecks and solve the issues? Talking is always the best option. The sooner you indicate which part of the collaboration does not meet your expectations, the higher the chances of success. Where one might be missing passion, the other might be looking for stability. If you know what is dysfunctional in your relationship, you know what can be done to fix it.

In a business relationship it is useful to share the initial goals of the collaboration: was the relation initiated for cost reduction purposes, to maximise profit or growth, or to achieve operational excellence? Making the intention and mutual expectations explicit will draw the solution nearer, even when intentions and expectations are changing. Do not forget to take a close and critical look at yourself, when calling the bottlenecks in the relationship.

Extract the emotions

In such conversations you sometimes are in desperate need of a third party. An objective relationship therapist, who is able to extract the emotions from a conflict. Together with a mediator you investigate whether the agreements should be renewed. Starting with the people who are directly involved, often executive management, and subsequently with the remainder of the customer- and supplier organizations. Compare this to a family therapy session or mending a family feud. Sometimes even neighbours get involved to solve the conflict! A disrupted relationship has an impact on multiple levels. These all need to be aligned again. Sometimes it can help to simply admit that, despite everything that is happening, you still love each other.

The more your partner plays a key role in the core of your existence, the more important solving the dispute is. In that case, the other party is a part of you. In a classical arranged marriage, where others have determined at forehand how you and your partner will collaborate, you might even consider a divorce.


Whether you continue your relation as customer and supplier, both will start working on the relationship, or agreeing to go your separate ways: in terms of future perspective it is always of utter importance that the interplay keeps meeting the original and developing intentions and goals of the collaboration.

It is not for nothing that we at Anderson MacGyver attach great importance to the ‘fit-for-purpose’-principal: suppliers and their solutions should match the business activity of the customer that they support. Once you have found each other, it is important to align the relationship to the goal you want to achieve together, and to maintain a mutual understanding.

We want to help with that. Sometimes by briefly standing between the parties and again clarifying the mutual intentions and goals.

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