Business Relationships New Year’s Resolution: Business Partner V. Vendor

By: Katie Bryant, CLM, Executive Director, Udall Shumway PLC

Happy 2019 everyone! The business partner relations team would like to share with you our new year’s resolution and encourage all of you to do the same. We are abolishing the word vendor and only using business partner. Whether it’s at an ALA event, at your law firms or law departments, and even at home, the word vendor has got to go. You may be saying to yourself why or even who cares? So, let’s examine the difference between a vendor and a business partner.

A vendor is the type that will sell and sell, but seldom deliver what you need. What’s worse, these vendors will often push technology or strategies that don’t fit our unique situation, resources, etc. They apply “cookie cutter” approaches and instill little trust in their products or solutions. Vendor relationships often look backward to what was, not to the future of what can be.  Vendors focus on the short game and not the long game. There is only a commercial connection with a vendor, there is no social connection or meaningful relationship and certainly no friendship.

A business partner has mutual vulnerability and risk sharing. They work together with their clients to create new possibilities in the future. They are willing to leave important things unspecified in the interests of flexibility, and due to trust. They live to the spirit of the agreement, not the letter of it. They do not promise the moon and the stars or tell you they’ll handle everything. They understand that collaboration comes first in order to provide the best quality and highest service possible. While selling is necessary, business partners seek first to understand, then to develop solutions. There is both a commercial connection and a social connection, often a friendship. And much like a friend, business partners tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. Honesty and accountability are central to their values in both successes and pitfalls. Business partners focus on people, not just the numbers. They treat their people with respect and place a high importance on integrity.

I think everyone agrees, the difference is simple: when a vendor steps back (or falls down), a business partner steps up. So, the next time someone uses the word vendor (it might even be a business partner) politely reframe the conversation by using business partner. And the next time you need someone in your corner, don’t talk to a vendor – seek out an ALA business partner that possesses the qualities of a friend. They support us when we need it most, they are the ones we count on for advice and the ones we trust in tough situations; we know what they’re capable of and depend on their commitment to watch our back. They partner with us to succeed.


Katie Bryant, CLM, serves as the Chair of ALA’s Business Partner Relations Project Team. She is the Executive Director of Udall Shumway PLC in Mesa, Arizona.