CommentaryJul 9th, 2024

From Vendor to Partner: Insights from Behind the Desk

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Written by John Vincent, Director of Business Development at Apex Automotive. Also known as the "Director of Everything +1," John is a multi-talented problem solver with three mobile phones and three computer screens.

Are you a vendor or a partner?

Third party vendors in the Automotive world are a necessary evil.

Harsh but true. The dealership can’t do everything all on its own, although we do try. My coding expertise ends with <b> bold </b>, so I am going to need some help for website conversion tools. I don’t own a million page view per month listing site, so I am going to need a place to list my used cars outside of my own website. The list goes on and on. Before you know it, if you are not careful (or resourceful) half of your advertising consists of vendor fees rather than marketing dollars.

One of my goals, and key to job security, is to eliminate as many vendors as possible and only attempt to retain essential business partners. How does a company position itself from being seen as a vendor to a business partner? Approaching 14 years in the industry, with portions on both sides of the desk and a massive stack of business cards from vendors dead and gone, I’ve composed a list of what I believe to be a tried-and-true way to upgrade your lowly vendor status to the more desirable: Partner.

The Do’s & Don’ts:

Account Management

This person is going to be the face/voice of your company to your clients. They are the front lines. They will (should be) fielding all the incoming requests and should have an advanced understanding of your tool/product/service. Being assigned a poor Account Manager (or not having one at all) signals to the client that we are not worthy of this additional support.

Do: Assign a Rep to accounts that first did a tour on the support team or at least can fix technical issues without assistance.
Don’t: Assign me a glorified intermediary that has to open up a support ticket for every request.

Do: Provide actionable insights and recommendations on how to better utilize your tool/service/ads.
Don’t: Send me a screenshot of the reporting dashboard that I already have access to and let it serve as your “performance review.”

Do: Reply back within 2 hours of any email request sent to you. We have to reply to our internet leads in under 15 minutes. 2 hours is not a big ask.
Don’t: Assume that since Support was copied, that you do not have to reply or try to fix it on your own.

Reporting & Measurement

If we are paying for your services, we need to easily be able to measure the return it is generating. While some clients may just take your word for it and cut you a check month in and month out, vendors need to understand that the average Dealership Marketer is not going to accept poor or vague reporting. We WANT to get in the weeds. We WANT to be able to tout your reporting, especially the ROI it has generated, and bring that to our management meetings. If your reporting cannot stand up to simple prodding, it’s not getting printed and handed out.

Do: Integrate with Google Analytics (where applicable) or other reporting platforms for added transparency and trust.
Don’t: Only offer your own reporting solution tailored to paint your product in the best light.

Do: Provide a tangible way to measure your product’s performance via full lead/sales match backs or clear value-added customer actions that can be traced back to your company.
Don’t: Supply rudimentary baseline reporting with no way to peel back the layers and dive deeper into the performance.

Do: Point out clear “wins” achieved by your product or service regularly.
Don’t: Assume your client is going to automatically attribute success to your product.

Technical Support

Things break, it happens. Users/Clients have requests that need addressing or maybe we just have a general question about a product feature. Eventually we are going to need to talk to your support staff. Do I have to wait 20 minutes on hold to get through? Can I even talk to a live person at all? Do my tickets go to a 3-5 business day queue of radio silence? Poor technical support, even for minor request and issues, can ruin a partnership.

Do: Have a ticketing system for both you and the client to clearly follow progress on their technical issues and requests.
Don’t: Offer only chat or email communication methods with no way to track existing cases.

Do: Provide support hours that follow the business hours of your target clients (Car Dealerships) and a robust after-hours support staff for those emergency Saturday updates.
Don’t: Have “Bankers Hours” and be closed during the most critical times that your client may need you.

Do: Have a “DEV” team that will take calls from the clients – or – a direct team lead that can be used to escalate existing issues.
Don’t: Send cases to the black hole known as "The DEV team" where they will sit for weeks on end without progress updates.


Just make it easy to do business with you. It’s really that simple. Be flexible, knowledgeable, and client centric. Your goal is to create raving fans.

If you take anything away from this article, it’s this:
Your goal as my vendor is to make me a raving fan. Make it so I don’t even want to waste my time doing a demo from your competitor. Follow this simple list and you’ll be on your way.

stack of vendor business cards next to a quarter
Vendors go in the stack of 300+ business cards. Partners go in the contact list in my phone.

Written by John Vincent, Director of Business Development at Apex Automotive. Also known as the "Director of Everything +1," John is a multi-talented problem solver with three mobile phones and three computer screens.

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John Vincent

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