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Vendors: Get on My Good Side and Win My Business

Vendors: Get on My Good Side and Win My Business

Property management professionals have to maintain successful relationships with a variety of people: fiduciary relationships with owners, tenant relations, and vendor relations. Relationships with vendors are arguably as important as having a good relationship with one’s owners because we rely on vendors so heavily during the course of our business. Instead of writing a ‘self-help’ article geared for the property management professional (which there are plenty), I decided to focus on that vendor who is trying to gain my business. During my decade of property management experience, I have noted several pitfalls for vendors, as well as ways they can earn “brownie points”.  Vendors take note! This article should be particularly useful as it is coming not from another vendor, but an actual property manager.

Vendor Drop Ins. I get it. Instead of the cold call in which you will be immediately dismissed by a site manager, you want to meet him/her face to face and make a good impression and introduce your business. You plan several communities to visit over the weekend and on Monday you make your visits. Bad move. Why? On any given Monday property managers are dealing with issues that occurred over the weekend, following up on emails, and reporting for their owners. I for one have major reports due on Mondays, as well as payroll. The vendor that makes an unannounced visit at 9:30am Monday morning has immediately made a poor impression. My advice to you, the vendor: Mondays are the absolute worst day for you to “drop in” to gain my business. Avoid this faux pas at all costs.

Keep visits brief. When you make your unexpected, unannounced visits, please, keep them brief. I cannot tell you how many times a long-winded vendor has come into my office, got comfortable at my desk and spent 30 minutes of my time telling me about their nieces wedding or recent white water rafting trip. Don’t do it. My time—like yours, is valuable. I get that you want to build a relationship, earn my trust and gain my business but this is not the right way to do it. Be conscious of this.

Offer a freebie. Would you ever buy a car without first test driving it? Quite possibly the best way to demonstrate your quality and service is to offer a free demo. We were once in the market for a cleaner for our unit turns and one day, a cleaning company made an unannounced visit and offered to clean one of my dirtiest units for free to show me what he could do. Guess what? His confidence in his service gained my business. Granted, he was in the right place at the right time, but his self-assurance was so strong in offering to clean my dirtiest unit that I absolutely had to give him a shot. Offering a “freebie” is particularly useful for new companies or ones that may not be known in the market.

Trade organization membership. This is arguably the most overlooked way to earn a property manager’s business. A vendor that has joined a local apartment association or IREM chapter not only shows his/her commitment to the industry, but also demonstrates an understanding of it. I’ll be honest- when scouting a new vendor or RFP, I’ll cross-reference if that vendor is a member of my local apartment association or IREM chapter. As a member of these associations, you will not only have opportunities to get “face time” with other property management professionals, but you will also be featured in publications distributed to the many you may not meet. A good property manager doesn’t look through the phone book: he reaches out to colleagues and relies on chapter/association membership.

Offer to sponsor a resident event. Here’s a good one. Want to make a good impression and one that supports a communities goals? Offer to sponsor an ice cream social or some other inexpensive resident event. Not only will you earn huge brownie points, but you may be able to cross-market. In the past, I’ve had insurance providers sponsor such events and in the process, hand out business cards and answer questions about renters insurance. Depending on the event (and your business), you may be able to offer your services directly to the tenant, all the while advancing positive PR for the apartment community. If you offer to sponsor a resident event, we will hold you to it. I once had a vendor who made such an offer and when I called him to take him up on it, he reneged on it, stating he had not received any business and declined to do any sponsoring. Needless to say, he hasn’t earned any of my business. Advice? Don’t attach conditions to sponsoring a resident event. Do it as a good gesture and believe me, it will be remembered.

Remember, no kickbacks. This is a big one. If you hope to win my business, never offer me a gift in return for using your services. If you do, you will never earn my business. Unprofessional property managers succumb to such conflicts of interest. The great many of them won’t—remember this. Such conflicts of interest are often spelled out as prohibited conduct in employee handbooks and professional managers who are members of IREM and NAR can lose their designations for accepting gifts (it is against their code of ethics). Rule to live by? Instead of offering a gift, show your professionalism. If you must offer a gift, you clearly haven’t demonstrated/convinced us why we should choose you over another vendor.

So there you have it. Six ever-so-important rules to live by for vendors from a property manager. Culminating from over a decade of being in the field and working with vendors. Take these tips with you wherever you go. You’re welcome.



This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

A few years ago during the recession, I suggested exactly the same thing regarding the "freebie," and was strung up by my thumbs for it, though I have stood by that every day anyway. I agree 100% with everything you have written.

  Mindy Sharp
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Great post, Nathan! As a long-time supplier to the industry, I think your thoughts are spot-on. The only aspect I would offer some insight on is the "freebie" perspective; while I agree with you in general, practical application of this is much easier for some types of products/services than others. Also, this can sometimes work against a supplier because some will perceive "free" as low value. Agree whole-heartedly with you on kickbacks - that should be a non-starter no matter what!

  Judy Bellack
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is absolutely wonderful, Nathan - thank you for sharing. I would like to get your thoughts on two items on your list that we as suppliers have concerns about:

1) Offer a freebie - I agree with you completely about offering a freebie! I do want to make a side note that there is a HUGE difference between offering a freebie and the prospective client asking for one. If a prospective client asks for one, my alarm bells go off, as it can sometimes be a sign that it will be a relationship where I am always asked for more and more, constantly getting squeezed. That isn't always the case, but it can be a strong litmus test for whether I might be entering that type of relationship.

2) Offer to sponsor a resident event - This is somewhat related, and is a topic I hear about all the time. In fact, this might be one of the biggest complaints I hear from fellow suppliers. Basically, suppliers are expected to give good pricing, but then, they are asked to suddenly pay for resident events that may have nothing to do with us. (Although your example may be an exception) On top of that, a lot of companies have their own mini conferences where I am asked to pay more to get seen. Combine that with the fact that we are already asked to foot the bill for most association sponsorships, sometimes I feel that we are, again, not treated like a partner, but rather an open wallet.

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you Jason. The point I was trying to make regarding the resident event is that the vendor openly offered but then when I asked to take him up on it, he declined. I get what you mean about sponsorships,etc. we are guilty of that. However, our national vendors get a lot of our business. When you factor in 20+ properties, you see what I mean. I guess we-as managers- don't feel like we are asking for much for sponsorship funds when they get so much of our business. The expectation isn't so high with local companies that will only service a few of our properties. Some managers may take it to the extreme when it comes to their hand being out. We really have to be careful not to ask for too much to frequently or else it puts the vendor in a very awkward position. Thank you for your insight, Jason.

  Nathan Borne, CPM®, MBA
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Nathan, you hit on many of my vendor partner Thank you for sharing ways to make it a smoother partnership!

  Mary Gwyn

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