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Closing the Vendor Gap

Sharon Owens Robustelli  

In my experience, the most difficult client relationships have been when my team and I have been viewed as one of our client’s many vendors. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a vendor, when what you sell is a clear and finite commodity. In marketing, the vast majority of what we sell is good thinking and strong counsel. After which comes the creative, the content, the campaign, and the results. In order for the relationship to be successful, we need to close the vendor gap. I try to instill in my teams how important it is to quickly move from a transactional mindset to a "consultational" mindset. In doing so, the general consensus is that it just feels better – the work flows more easily, the ideas come more organically, and the spirit is more collaborative. In short, it feels better to be valued than to be tolerated. 


While our clients pay for a service, they stay for the value we provide. 


That value is provided in myriad actions such as: offering counsel on issues your client is facing that aren’t specifically within your scope of work, but are pain points you can help address; sharing a point-of-view on trends and happenings in the news that may impact your client’s business or simply help inform their day-to-day business decisions; or offering to conduct a training for your client’s team on social media, thought leadership, or another area where you and your team have expertise that can help advance your client’s goals. The latter actually earned my team and I an industry award at a former agency. Awards notwithstanding, the benefits of changing your mindset from “we’re being paid to do a job” to “we are engaged in a partnership” are many. Here are just three: 


1. Deeper client relationships give you the opportunity to be of service to your clients at a macro and human level. They trust you to give thoughtful counsel not because they’re paying you, but because you’ve demonstrated that their problems matter to you. And *bonus* by being let in on areas outside of your direct line of work, you will gain new skills and insights that will expand your personal and professional toolbox. Your own business will be positively impacted and you’ll be better equipped to be of service to others with the new tools you’ve gained. 


2. Being a part of your client’s close and trusted team gives you access to peers and decision-makers who otherwise would simply orbit you rather than interact with you. For example, other marketing agency leads, executives representing other brands under the same parent company as your client, or providers of services that you can use to further your own business objectives. 

3. Your business will experience growth both organically from your existing client through additional assignments and increased year-over-year budgets, and from new clients. With a strong, genuine partnership with your clients, you will also be in a strong position to ask for and receive positive testimonials that you can leverage to attract and win new accounts and new opportunities to be of service. All in all, by approaching your client relationships from a partnership mindset you’ll both get much more than you bargained for. Give it a shot and let me know how it works out. 

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