True Benefits Partner or Just Another Vendor? 5 Ways Employers Can Tell

Lindsays Vendor Blog

For seven years, I managed health and well-being benefits for one of America’s largest retailers and its 350,000 employees. Over that time, I dealt with some great vendors and some forgettable ones.

The best ones feel like true partners. With others, it feels like you’re on your own, that success with the solution is up to you and you alone. What separates the two?

As someone who has sat on both sides of the table (I’m now on the vendor side), I can tell you what I sensed in my former role has been confirmed in my current role: The most successful relationships are with vendors who truly want you to succeed.

Here are five qualities to look for from the get-go:

  1. Passion. Do the people who sell the benefit and service your account have a palpable connection to their work, their company and its mission? Are they excited about helping you and your employees, driving innovation, or changing the benefits landscape? If not, you may question whether they or the company will be committed to the relationship.
  2. Priorities. Your vendor should understand what “winning” means to you. Is it employee engagement, retention, ROI, a rich benefits package … all of the above? A good vendor asks the right questions and understands your strategic priorities, and they ask again on a regular basis. They also know they’re not the only vendor you have to manage and will alleviate as much of that burden as possible.
  3. Familiarity. We’ve all heard the sales cliché that “people buy from people they like,” but it rings true in the vendor-client relationship as well. A good vendor partner should get to know you on an individual level, both within and outside the office walls (as appropriate). The more they know what makes you tick, the better they can serve you.
  4. Empathy. It might sound obvious, but vendors in the employee benefits space should see the world through an employee’s lens. They should exist to help employees solve the problems that make life or work life a challenge, whether those challenges are related to physical, emotional or financial health.
  5. Sincerity. This can be displayed in different ways. If a vendor is willing to put a performance guarantee in place, it tells you they stand behind their offering. But they shouldn’t be afraid to tell you if your company is doing something that hinders or prevents those guaranteed results. Defying another business cliché, “The customer is always right,” a true vendor partner shouldn’t tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know—because they want you to win.

Can a vendor really embody all five of these qualities? The truly great ones do, and thankfully they are more common than the few bad eggs out there. Most, however, fall somewhere in between. If you’re looking for a successful partnership that will give your company the best value and your employees the greatest benefit, don’t settle for anything less than five out of five.

Want to talk more about this topic? I’m happy to share my perspective and lessons learned, no matter which side of the table you sit on. I can be reached at