How to Develop a Successful Buyer-Seller Relationship

2=Planning, 4=Control, 5=Closing

For most of my career, I have served in financial service organizations. As a project and program manager and PMO director, I’ve had the responsibility of procuring the necessary products and services from sellers. In other words, I was a buyer.

picture of handshaking

I recently left the corporate world to develop my LLC where I provide consulting services and teach courses to help project managers prepare for their PMP and PMI-RMP exams. Now, I am a seller.

Whether you are or a buyer or seller, good communication and doing what you say is critical to success. What can we do to get everyone on the same page and for the buyer and seller has a mutually beneficial relationship? Allow me to offer three recommendations.

1. Define the Buyer/Seller Relationship

First, healthy buyer/seller relationships require clarity in the roles and responsibilities. Think about a project that requires third-party professional services. Perhaps you need an outside team to develop a new software application.

Start by defining the roles and responsibilities of the buyer and the seller. Here are some questions you might consider:

  • Who will facilitate the requirement sessions?
  • Who will validate and approve the requirements?
  • Who will develop the design?
  • Who will validate and approve the design?
  • Who will set up the development, test, and production environments?
  • Who will write the software code?
  • Who will perform the unit testing, function testing, integration testing, and performance testing?
  • What type of lifecycle (e.g., plan-driven or change-driven) will you use?
  • When will the seller invoice the buyer?
  • How will the invoices be approved? How will payments be made?

When I enter into these relationships, I develop a Master Agreement and Statements of Work. The Master Agreement defines the general terms and conditions between the buyer and the seller. For each Statement of Work, I define the specific deliverables and roles and responsibilities.

The Master Agreement and Statements of Work may originate from the seller or the buyer. The important thing is the communication between the two parties and there is a clear understanding of who will do what. Ambiguous relationships often lead to conflicts.

2. Do What You Said You Would Do

Second, do what you say. When an individual, group, or organization fails to perform as they promised, trust erodes (and contract disputes arise). Sellers would be better off to forego opportunities if they don’t have the ability to deliver.

Buyers should carefully evaluate the seller’s ability to perform. Check references and discover what you can about previous engagements. Ask the seller if you can interview and select the individuals for your team. If they say no, I drop them from my seller list.

3. Evaluate the Buyer/Seller Relationship

Third, evaluate the relationship periodically. This could be one-on-one meetings where an individual from each organization meets and evaluates.

For large projects, you might have a Steering Committee comprised of key stakeholders from both organizations. In my experience, we have included senior leaders as well as program and project managers. In these meetings, we typically covered things such as:

  • Is everything on track?
  • What are our greatest risks and what are we doing to manage those risks?
  • What have we learned thus far in the project?
  • What additional planning do we need to complete in preparation for the next part of the project?
  • What issues needs to be settled?

Furthermore, it’s best to take preventive measures first. If issues surface, take corrective measures. This ongoing evaluation process can greatly improve the communication and potential success of your projects.

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About the author 

Harry Hall

My name is Harry Hall and I'm the guy behind the and the author of The Purpose Driven Project Manager. Risks can derail projects, resulting in challenged and sometimes failed projects. I make project risk management easy to understand and practical to apply, putting project managers in drivers seat.

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