When interacting with clients it’s important to use the right terminology to describe the relationship you have with them. Using the wrong word risks devaluing the work you do together, making the valuable contributions you bring seem unimportant. Describing yourself as a ‘supplier’ or ‘vendor’ can be interpreted to have this effect.

Recent articles on Quirk’s have highlighted this debate. Brooks Deaton, Senior Director at Consumer Insights at NASCAR, recently wrote: ‘“Vendor” feels cheap. It reminds me of a baseball game where I’m buying a hot dog and, more than likely, a beer. It is a transaction that doesn’t require much thought and represents something generic in exchange for money.’ From the agency side, Isabelle Albanese, President at Consumer Truth wrote: ‘I don’t supply – I contribute. And my contributions are considered to be a valuable part of the relationship, unique and constructive.’

Terms such as ‘vendor’ imply speed and ease and while these aren’t necessarily bad qualities, it’s questionable as to whether these are the most important things you want to get across to potential clients. What about the meaningful work you do to add value to their business and your relationship with them? Is that not something you want to illustrate up front, before mentioning how fast your work is? Terms such as ‘partner’, on the other hand, imply a consistently strong level of commitment that reflects hard work and honesty on both sides. It suggests a long-term effort to produce a positive impact, rather than the ‘use once, throw away’ attitude which can be deduced from ‘vendor’ or ‘supplier’. What you give to a client is worth reflecting in the name you give yourself. As Isabelle Albanese said, you ‘contribute’ to your clients to add value to the research process, so why degrade your contributions with a demeaning title?

Your aim as a qualitative researcher is to understand people, and a term such as ‘vendor’ does not imply any level of comprehension either of consumers and customers or of your clients as a business or as individuals.  It does not imply that you’ve given up any time to appreciate their offering. As Brooks said, ‘vendor’ and ‘supplier’ imply sales, and a cheap, quick and easy transaction at that. We have written previously [insert link] about why you should get rid of the business pitch and gain new business through thought leadership, and relating to people through honest and approachable conversation. Referring to yourself as a partner and collaborating with a client as a partnership is essential for this.

Finally, Brooks Deaton said in his Quirk’s article that when he sees agencies describing themselves as ‘vendors’ he believes it cheapens the valuable work they do. That this terminology is ultimately off putting to the clients it’s meant to attract raises a clear problem. Calling yourself a ‘partner’ will emphasize the confidence you have in your company’s ability. It’s not worth risking losing new business prospects before they’ve even fully checked out your offering, simply because you’ve chosen the wrong word to describe yourself.