Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear the term “vendor,” images come to mind of an apron-wearing gentleman selling hot dogs and soft drinks out of a cart parked on a city sidewalk. I don’t think many people picture the valuable roles served by community association accountants, attorneys, bankers, insurance providers, reserve specialists, technology experts and others. Yet too often, “vendor” is used to describe these professionals. Instead, we all should be striving to call these individuals “business partners.” It better captures the role they serve for community clients.
Business partners have specialized knowledge, experience and industry contacts who can help associations reach their goals. As a business partner myself, my goal isn’t simply to sell associations something. My goal is to help associations and their managers reach their goals. If an association’s goal is to provide a great service to its residents, I can help do that. If the association wants to find a better product or service that will make life easier, and I can’t do that, I probably know someone who can.
Some business partners complain about getting calls from community managers or CAI chapters only when they’re being asked to sponsor something. I understand that, but business partners also need to ask themselves whether they’re being perceived as vendors because they’re acting like vendors. Think about it. Do we call on community managers and community association volunteer leaders only when we want to make a sale? Or do we call them to offer assistance or to see if there is any way in which we can make their lives easier?
Similarly, CAI and its community manager members have been striving to raise the level of professionalism and public awareness of the value of their work. Not long ago, managers asked that we refer to them as “community managers” instead of “property managers” because the term better reflected their area of specialization. The “community manager” term acknowledges these individuals’ years of experience and education. It also captures their specialized skills in working with a diverse group of residents and a varying set of challenges. All of us should remember to use the “community manager” term and give these professionals the respect they’ve earned.
If business partners want to be recognized for the value we bring to this relationship, then we first have to recognize that value ourselves. We have to alter our own perception of our role from “buy and sell” to being “a resource in a meaningful professional relationship.”
Fortunately, CAI has developed the online course Business Partners Essentials, which is a great refresher for “old hands” like me to remind us of the core ideas of why we’re here and an excellent way for those new to the industry to get some important tips on how to operate effectively in this business environment. Go to www.caionline.org/bpcourse for more information.
Business partners have so much to offer community associations, which is why I’m not shy about correcting those who refer to us as vendors. I’m no longer content to be perceived as someone who just wants to sell something. My years of experience mean too much to me to be viewed as a commodity, and I know many CAI business partner members feel the same.
All CAI members should make an effort to strike “vendor” from our vocabulary. When was the last time you saw a business partner pushing a hot dog cart?
Peter B. Miller is a principal of Miller-Dodson Associates, a reserve studies firm in Annapolis, Md., and a member of CAI’s Business Partners Council.
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