group of people holding a meeting in a conference room
PHOTO: Christina Morillo // WOCinTechChat

As interest in augmented reality and virtual reality gains traction in the digital workplace, the idea of "real" reality is getting that cool retro throwback feel. And in some ways, maybe even becoming a differentiator.

In the digital workplace, internal and external teams are leveraging collaboration tools more than ever to accommodate new work scenarios, defined by multiple vendors and disparate work environments. But company's expectations of teams and vendors haven't changed at all. 

What’s gotten lost in all of this is the practice of collaborating — *gasp* — offline. 

The notion of meeting in person might seem to completely miss the point of a digital or flexible workplace. And as the co-founder of a technology company, it might seem odd that I’m advocating for an analog approach. But here’s the thing: Each tool a company uses to achieve its objectives inevitably requires a new vendor relationship (for instance, marketing departments might have an analytics suite, attribution providers, A/B testing tools, communication tools, agencies and much more). While these vendors and tools are inherently complementary in nature, we’ve found that few teams, if any, actually ask their providers to work together to solve problems in a collaborative way. This approach perpetuates the idea of silos that we all claim to want to get rid of. 

As we enter 2020, consider an alternative to having vendors work in isolation to make the pieces fit: a quarterly vendor meeting, where your technology and service providers can collaborate in real life.

What Would a Quarterly Vendor Meeting Look Like? 

A quarterly vendor meeting is a group meeting amongst all of your complementary vendors and teams, during which you present your broad goals, challenges and plans for the coming months. You then open the floor for the vendors to suggest any best practices or opinions they may have. 

In this way, all of your vendors will be clear on what you are trying to achieve and will be encouraged to work together to ensure you hit your goals. This is an extremely powerful method to get the most out of the tools you have purchased, and make sure you are not needlessly wasting time.

As with anything, you can’t just throw a few vendors into a room together and hope genius insights will emerge to solve all of your problems. By taking a few steps you will be sure to get the most out of the process.

Related Article: Want to Improve Your Next Meeting? Remove the Table

1. Acquaint Everyone Before Collaborating

When all of the vendors arrive, don’t get down to business right away. Give everyone an opportunity to meet. Maybe start with a casual breakfast or lunch and if there is anything special about your business, feel free to show off with a quick tour or history lesson. The more you can get your guests excited about being there together, the more excited they will be about the opportunity to contribute.

2. Set and Share the Goal for Each Session

This should be obvious, but it can’t be said enough. Be clear about what you are trying to get out of the meeting. Your partners are there to help you, so make their job easier by clearly communicating beforehand to all attendees what you expect to achieve at this meeting. 

3. Be Generous With Information

If you lead by example and are open about your challenges, successes, opportunities and data about your performance and goals, you can expect companies to be equally as generous in return. If you are stingy with information, companies will be unable to help you or unwilling to provide insight due to an inherent lack of trust.

Additionally, answer clarifying or probing questions openly and honestly. You may feel like you are being grilled, but if you find yourself in this situation, this means your vendors are just showing an interest in the business and the opportunity to provide helpful insights. This is what you want, so embrace it.

Related Article: A Community-Driven Definition of Collaboration Success

4. Ensure Your Guests Are Complementary

The worst thing you can do is fill the room with competitive companies. Your vendors were encouraged to come out to help you by being collaborative, and nothing stifles the mood more than having two vendors feel like they are being pitted against each other. You will get far more out of the event if your guests feel comfortable, excited and generally happy to be there.

5. Encourage Vendors to Prepare Their Own Presentations

If you have been working with any of the vendors for a while, encourage them to come prepared with their own data and analyses — as long as it fits in with the goal of the meeting. Try not to lead or control the presentations too much, as they can be a great way to surface candid ideas, analysis or creative suggestions you may not have considered.

6. Let the Meeting Focus on Building Vendor-to-Vendor Relationships

This is an opportunity for your vendor partners to meet their peers and learn from each other. Giving them time to chat amongst themselves with frequent breaks can provide as much value to them as you are getting from having them there. This can be a powerful way to ensure these are not one-off meetings, but instead can occur at regular intervals, building off each meeting to achieve more than you did the time before.

Related Article: The Elements of Sustainable Collaboration

7. Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up 

You can have the best vendor meeting ever, but it will have all been for nothing if you don’t take charge of following-up and owning the outcomes yourself. Make sure you are taking good notes and develop a plan coming out of the meeting to act on the great ideas your partners come up with. Don’t be surprised if a partner or two offers to take lead on following up. This can be a tempting offer to take, however resist the temptation and make sure you are owning the process. If the vendors are excited about helping you solve your challenges, take the lead and follow up so you can effectively channel that energy into results and progress for your business.

Plan a Vendor Meeting

You’ll be surprised at how much interest and insight you’ll get and the opportunities it will open for you and your team.