The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: How to Get the Most Out of Your Vendor Relationships

Posted October 26, 2021 by Jesse Larrison

Outsourced business partnerships are a fact of life in most revenue cycle environments. Entrusting the most complex and difficult components of your business to dedicated experts is often the best way to ensure you are managing those segments successfully. This can mean the difference in hitting a revenue goal, or achieving a super-clean balance sheet, but these partnerships do require additional effort to maintain and grow effectively.

Get to know your Executive Sponsor. A good vendor partnership will likely have several layers of communication. Your operations team will have their counterparts on the vendor side and that usually extends up and down the chain. One of the most important aspects of a strong vendor relationship is to know your Executive Sponsor. This is a high level (typically a VP or above) contact on the vendor side that you can reach out to at a moment’s notice for anything, from a copy of the latest report (that may be buried in your email), or a quick answer on revenue (while you are stuck in a management meeting). Personally, I place my cell phone number in my signature on all emails and I encourage all of my partners to call, email or text me with any request, no matter how small. This seemingly insignificant offer of communication can sometimes make or break your vendor relationship. Knowing who to call and when in a pinch can offer real-time context and relevance to what is happening in your business. It keeps you from guessing or having to research issues in a vacuum. Get that cell number!

Make your goals clear: I will say that our strongest partnerships are not the ones with the highest ROI or the best KPI scores but are the ones in which we all agree on clear-cut targets and goals.  Sometimes we provide guidance on what the program goals should be, and sometimes they are provided to us. Either way, once both sides of the partnership understand the objectives, success is easy to measure. Good vendors thrive on transparency as it relates to goal-setting. Bad and Ugly ones are only interested in their own pursuits. Don’t miss out on that conversation with your vendor partners and don’t assume that their objectives match yours. Make it clear and watch them execute it properly, after all, both your fortunes are linked. Your success depends on their performance.

Don’t disengage completely: You’re busy, I get it. Everyone is busy. Perhaps you are outsourcing this business so you can reallocate staff and focus on your core competencies. But don’t reallocate your attention entirely. Your vendor should be respectfully supplying you with a constant stream of communication or reporting with the basic information you need to manage the project, but you still need to have regular touchpoints with your vendor leaders. I recommend quarterly business reviews at a minimum, and I also recommend attending them. I have seen and experienced an excessive “hands-off” approach to engagement on both sides of the vendor partnership in the past, and it does not serve the project well long term. Staying connected with regular performance reviews takes a small effort, but will prevent minor issues from becoming large ones, and will keep you confident and informed as to how your partnership is working (or isn’t!)

Celebrate the Response: Winston Churchill said, “Achievement is not last, disappointment is not deadly: It is the mettle to proceed with that matters.”  This is no truer than in the vendor relationship. It is easy to get excited about a big revenue month, super low AR days, or a perfect KPI score, but how does your partnership handle the strain of adversity? It will happen. Things will break, people will make mistakes, your clearinghouse will go rogue and tell nobody, claims or payments will get stuck on an island with no escape… things will go wrong. It is the response from your vendor (and your team) that separates the Good Vendors from the Bad and the Ugly. This is where the aforementioned concepts about goals, communication, and engagement really come in handy.  I have been involved in some hairy situations and have seen the result of a poor response versus a strong one. The best vendors in the world will encounter problems, but they also know how to troubleshoot issues quickly and efficiently. Celebrating the Response and rewarding your vendor and your team when they overcome adversity builds an almost unbreakable bond and solidifies the vendor relationship. It challenges both sides to do better, work harder, and find new ways to bring efficiencies and innovations to the program. The Good vendors learn from mistakes and build stronger pathways for the business. The Bad and the Ugly ones try to lay blame elsewhere or overlook issues until they are too far gone. Find vendors that Celebrate the Response with you and your team, and you will know that you have found one of the Good ones.