At some point, your organization is going to work with a vendor, consultant, or other outside group. It could be about creating or updating a web or media project, hiring a builder, engaging legal advice, fundraising strategy, or a million other possibilities. Whenever that happens, there’s a critical issue that too many organizations don’t think enough about: Your in-house contact person or representative.
Some call them a “liaison,” a “go-between,” or “point person.” Whatever you call your employee that handles relationships with outside vendors, that role is critical to your success. Here’s a few tips for picking the right person to deal with outside groups:
1) It shouldn’t be the person who’s failure is the reason the outsider was brought in. It sounds obvious, but it happens all the time. A nonprofit is unhappy with their inside fundraiser, so they hire an outside financial strategist for some new ideas. But in many cases, they have their inside fundraising person (the one who’s failing) be the contact person for the new, outside group. Really bad idea. The inside employee is already smarting from their failure, and the last thing they want is to see an outsider excel where they didn’t. They’ll often undermine the project, and at the very least, throw unreasonable obstacles at the outside group.
2) It should be a relatively high level person on your team. Depending on the job, the inside employee will be seeing budgets, confidential information, statistics, and other details that you might not want a lower ranking employee to see. Make sure your employee contact is at the same level of leadership, experience, and expertise as your vendor or consultant. I’ve seen situations where a lower paid employee was the vendor contact, and felt the vendor was making too much money. It’s all about perspective, and you need someone who has a good one.
3) It shouldn’t be a person who is too opinionated. Sometimes, the contact person let’s his or her personal opinion get in the way of an outsider’s new ideas. You’re paying the outside organization for new thinking, so don’t let your own team member undermine it.
4) Finally, make sure your contact person has good social skills. In any outside relationship there will be misunderstandings, miscues, and innocent mistakes. Your employee should have the people skills to keep everything on a friendly basis, and not panic at the slightest problem. If your contact person is someone who gets hysterical at the smallest issue, they will quickly destroy what could be a long and productive relationship.
Remember – you get most of your information about how the project is going from your inside contact. So make sure that they have the experience, people skills, and creativity – plus, are secure enough in their job to manage the kind of relationships that will end successfully.
Have you encountered situations where the contact person created problems during a project?