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  January 11th, 2022 | Written by

In this Fraught Time for Supply Chain and Freight, not all Vendors are Partners

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  • Vendors are a key part of any business. We all rely on them, and we all need them.
  • Elevating every vendor to partner status cheapens the word and dilutes what an actual partner contributes.

Throughout the pandemic, Zoom became a lubricant for organizations to keep moving and stay connected. Sales calls, internal team meetings, external events like webinars and conferences — many of us turned to this tool for necessary face-to-face communication, and it’s been vital.

But as critical as Zoom has been, they’re still just a vendor for all of us. They offer a service, and we pay them for that service. It’s transactional, plain and simple.

That’s a parallel we can all draw to other vendors too. Though it’s become a common turn of phrase to refer to vendors as partners (and especially for your vendors to refer to themselves as your partner), you shouldn’t confuse the two terms. They’re not synonymous.

Vendors are bought. Partnerships are earned.

Elevating every vendor to partner status cheapens the word and dilutes what an actual partner contributes to your company and your goals. It can also cause you to misallocate resources and energy to the wrong relationships and potentially cause you to steer your organization in the wrong direction.

Over the last few years, we’ve all faced our own trials and difficult times. It’s been easy to see the value of partnerships and relationships. But it’s when things are calm that these bonds are really forged. If you don’t build the right partnerships when times are good — with your carriers, with your freight forwarders, with the right vendors — you’re not going to be their priority when times turn tougher.

What’s the difference between a partner and a vendor?

To me, a vendor simply wants to sell you more of their service, even if it’s not the right move for your business.

A partner, on the other hand, is a listener.  A sounding board. A confidant. A partner lives in the trenches with you, understands your business, and understands how you go to market in business. A partner brings expertise and suggestions that empower decision-making. A partner doesn’t always make a sale just because they can; a partner understands when their current technology doesn’t fully solve the problem. A solution that complements and enables the business process may or may not include my technology as part of that solution stack. As a partner rather than just a vendor, I owe it to you to tell you that. A partner prioritizes the long-term relationship and the health of your business over their own short-term profits.

Partners may sometimes say no, and they know when to say no. They have a responsibility not to go down a bad path or let you go down a bad path, even if it would mean a bigger check for them.

That’s when the partner becomes a trusted advisor and a member of the business team. After all, business partnerships have to start with the same foundation as personal relationships — trust, openness, honesty, empathy, and communication.

I have a relevant story to share. When I came to two years ago, a part of my final interview process for a sales position with the executive team was to provide at least two references. Easy, right?  Of course. However, there was a catch: those references have to be customers that I had done business with. The executives interviewing me wanted to make sure my customers would vouch that I had been a partner and not just a vendor. I clearly had the goods because I got the job, but I loved that they asked for customer references and saw my relationships with customers as a prerequisite for the job.

Key Takeaway

Vendors are a key part of any business. We all rely on them, and we all need them. That network looks different at every company. Perhaps if you’re lean, you can get by with only a few dozen vendors. If you’re a larger company, you may have hundreds of different vendors.

Your circle of partners will be much smaller than that, but much deeper. They’ll be the ones you can turn to in times like we’ve found ourselves over the past 18 months — the ones who will prioritize your business, your goals, and your long-term success, even if it means they’re not closing a sale.

Plus, there’s usually another great bonus when working with the right partners: They’re much more willing to buy the nice dinner and the craft IPA.



As head of Shipper Sales for, Dan focuses on helping anyone shipping goods around the world get more connected to supply chain vendors, customers, software platforms, and more. Dan is passionate about using technology to provide visibility, clarity, and ease to complex supply chain challenges that require integrating multiple generations of technologies.

Past roles include VP of eCommerce for conDati, VP of Digital Performance Management at Blue Triangle, VP of Digital Strategy at SOASTA. He’s also worked with IBM Rational, Lockheed Martin, and Mercury/HP Software.

He lives in Saint Augustine, Florida.

Dan has presented his work at many conferences including the South Florida Agile/DevOps days, StarEAST, MobileWeek, Big Data TechCon Boston, Jenkins User Conference (East), several Meetups, and at itSMF events around North America, as well as the itSMF National Conference, multiple Gartner Conferences, and many local and regional events on a variety of topics in performance engineering and the SDLC.

You can find DAn at @DanBoutinUST or at a conference or meet-up near you.