Job Skills For The Future: Vendor Management

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr)

In a recent meeting, a manager much higher than I said something that blew me away: Vendor Management is a job skill of the future.

First, because I realized she was right and I hadn’t thought of it.

Secondly because I realized that’s an issue I’ve not covered here, and if I’m going to be the geek job guru I need to cover skills we progeeks need for the future. So welcome to my latest series – Job Skills For The Future.

I can’t claim it’s the most original title. But anyway, let’s talk Vendor Management, because we should.

Vendor Management – You’re Going To Need It

What do I mean by Vendor Management? Pretty simple – Vendor Management is working with a company outside of your own to get goods and services.

OK, it’s not simple because it involves negotiation, contracts, communication, money, and of course inevitable complex legal agreements. I’ve been on both sides of the equation and trust me, Vendor Management is a complete skillset of its own. There are people that specialize in it as part of their other job functions, and for some it’s most of their job function.

(which is also a way of saying if you can do it and have done it, put it on your resume, people probably need it.)

But why is this a job skill that’s important for the future? It’s pretty important now, what’s the deal?

It’s important for your future: As you move up in your career, it’s more and more likely that you’ll have to interact with vendors. So for your own sake, look for opportunities to learn it.

People are outsourcing more than ever: Ever feel like a lot of your company’s functions are outsourced? That’s because they are – its’ easier to do than ever and in a complex, more necessary to do (because of the need for specialists). In the future there will be more outsourcing – I used to joke I could make a triple A game with a five person staff by outsourcing, and its not as funny as it was.

By the way outsourcing isn’t just contractors. It’s software or it’s meal services or whatever.

You’re inevitably getting something from a vendor: You company or yourself as a freelancer is going to inevitable interact with a vendor. Sure, it may not be many, but vendors interact with other vendors and so on. You might as well get those vendor management skills together because like it or not, even a few vendor relationships probably spiderweb into fr more tan you realize.0

Vendors change: Right now how many people get important software services on the web via subscription? I recall a time when that seemed odd or impossible. That outsourcing/insoucring strategy that seems good today will change in a few years. Vendor relations and needs and services change – so getting good at Vendor Management gets you ready for transformations.  Even if it’s not your job now . . .

It’s only going to get more complicated from here.

So How Do I Get Good At It?

So how do you get good at Vendor Management? Well most of my experience was a mix of accident and “call Steve he likes to talk to people.” But here’s what I found and what I’ve seen.

  • First, be aware of Vendor relations period. Don’t tune it out, or ignore it, or pray it goes away (not that I haven’t done those things). Listen and learn. As of late just paying attention helped me find out how some Vendors have changed (sadly, for the worst).
  • Second, find an edge for dealing with Vendors – are you good at talking, good at the law, good at analyzing proposals? Find where you’re good, because unless it’s a major part of your job, you should develop the part you need.  (My advantage is persistence and friendliness).
  • Third, go and try it out. One of my major realizations lately is that as my experience is piecemeal, I need more. The people really good at Vendor Management seem to dive into it and learn – so seek it out.
  • Fourth and finally, and though I say this often, pay attention to the news. Knowing what vendors are out there is helpeful. Many’s the time I’ve found some new service and wished I’d known more about it.

As I said, I could be a bit better at this – but I hope my advice helps you.  I’ll share any more insights I have.

If you’re a Freelancer? Then you’re gonna have to deal with a lot of Vendor Management, so get good at it now.

– Steve