How to give vendor feedback like a boss
Have you ever been excited to bring on a PR freelancer, graphic designer, copywriter, or developer, only to find that your visions for the project ended up being fundamentally misaligned? Learning to give smart, timely feedback could be the key to getting the best out of your relationships with vendors.
Getting started with a vendor
Set expectations early on
Time invested upfront will result in better understanding and greater commitment from your vendor. Aside from your time frame and business objectives, the start of the project is the time to establish how and when you’ll communicate with each other, and the turnaround times for feedback.
Don’t expect them to fix your internal issues
If you’re in a co-founder relationship or a team of people with different ideas about your strategic vision, a graphic designer isn’t going to fix it for you–no matter how brilliant she is. Have one internal person synthesize feedback and deliver it as a block, rather than getting everyone to weigh in with contradictory track changes that slow down and confuse the person you hired to execute the project.
How to format your feedback
Always link to impact
Saying, “I don’t like that orange color,” is only your personal opinion. While it may help the vendor to understand your taste, it doesn’t help them to tie it back to the strategy of the piece you’re working on. You might like to try elaborating, “When I see the orange color, it feels very dominating and jarring. We had agreed on more calming colors and elements that speak to our all-natural ingredients.” It could help your vendor better understand your objectives and vision.
The 30 – 60 – 90 rule
It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of a project at the very beginning and start to ask big, structural questions at the end when there’s no time to go back. To give efficient feedback, you could try structuring three specific rounds of check-ins; when the project is 30 % completed, 60% completed, and 90% completed.
Questions to ask yourself when…
…the project is 30% finished
- Do I like the shape of the idea?
- Does this idea fit the brief, and will it fulfill my objectives?
- What’s the best way to move this concept forward?
- Is this, holistically, the right direction for my company, and does it fit my mission and vision?
…the project is at 60% finished
- Was the previous feedback round implemented?
- Does the look, feel, and tone of the piece fulfill my objectives?
- Is there a way to expand on the concept responsibly?
…the project is 90% finished
- Was the previous feedback round implemented?
- Do all of the facts add up, and is the grammar correct?
- Is the formatting consistent, are the measurements of the mock-up correct, or has the final user-testing uncovered any bugs?
- Can I confidently sign off this off when the final tweaks have been made?
Clearly prioritize your feedback
Rank and prioritize your feedback to communicate which pieces are fundamental to your project and company. Having reminders about what’s most valuable to you will help your vendor to understand more about your brand essence.
Managing feedback when your relationship has broken down
Avoid being judgmental
If you find yourself in a strained relationship with your vendor over missed deadlines or project scope, a technique that can help you navigate even the most pinched conflict-ridden situations is nonviolent communication. It’s also advisable to try to solve any outstanding issues before you deliver further feedback on your work together.
One of the principles of nonviolent communication is that we shift away from the language based on evaluation/manipulation to language based on needs. This means stepping back from ordering, exhorting, lecturing, and name-calling, and towards expressing our own needs based on what we see and hear.
A message that is based only on evaluation might look like:
I don’t like your editing. You keep flitting between scenes too quickly.
Whereas a message expressing our own needs would look more like:
When I watch this part of our video, I see a lot of jump cuts and I find it difficult to concentrate and follow the narrative.
This doesn’t mean that you aren’t firm or don’t get what you asked for, it simply stops bad feelings or a difference of opinion holding back your project.
After the project
After the project is over, it might be tempting to run head-first into the next thing, especially if your relationship with the vendor has ended.
It can be useful for both sides though, to have a short wrap up meeting to reflect on how the project went and what you can learn from your working relationship.
Be as even-handed as possible, ensuring that feedback is two-way. And make the meetings action-oriented and have a plan arising out of the conclusions for your next piece of work.
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