Differences Between Contract Management and Vendor Management

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Categories: contracts


Earlier this month I wrote about the different roles involved in contract management. There are two key roles that play a part in managing project contracts: vendor management and contract management.

They sound similar, so what is the difference?

Let’s look at the key differences between these two areas, and then it’s clearer to see why project managers need to rely on both during contract negotiations and the ongoing relationships with suppliers.

Vendor managers work with suppliers with a focus on the business’ relationship with them over time. They are looking to get the best outcomes for the organisation out of the relationship with the supplier.

Contract managers focus on individual contracts. They understand the requirements, details and can work specifically with the supplier and the project team on the needs of a particular engagement.

In other words, contract managers take a more focused view of a relationship with a supplier, looking specifically at the needs of one contract (although in reality they are probably managing more than one at a time). Vendor managers look at the holistic relationship with the supplier, across multiple projects, multiple contracts and probably have different contact points within the supplier organisation.

Contract Management Roles

The differences become even clearer when you start to look at the different job functions within those two groups.

Contract managers look at:

  • Individual contracts, starting at the moment the scope of a project is clear, or there’s the acknowledgement that some kind of resource needs to be procured.
  • Terms and conditions relating to that specific procurement, including working with the rest of the wider project team to establish the best type of contract (fixed price etc) for the specific deal.
  • Risk management related to this contract.
  • How to get the best value out of this contract.

The contract management personnel in your business will be looking at the contract lifecycle, ensuring that the project’s needs are met from start to end, and that the contract wraps up neatly at the end when everything is complete on the project.

A key skill for contract managers is negotiation. They’ll be working on setting up the contracts and that can involve a lot of research, influencing and negotiating to secure an outcome that everyone is happy with. The relationship is formed at an early stage, and a positive experience of the negotiating and requirements stage is going to set up the culture of the relationship going forward. Skilled contract managers will know how to get the best deal while still making it a win win for everyone, and starting the contract off on the right foot.

Vendor Management Roles

Vendor managers take a longer-term, strategic look at contracts and the organisation’s relationship with suppliers over time. They look at:

  • The business strategy for vendors and securing resources, such as managing the list of preferred suppliers. By focusing on specific, strategic vendors, your vendor management team could negotiate a better deal, such as using the same vendor to do the build and support of a new software tool.
  • Ensuring relationships with vendors stay positive, and improve over time through good communication and support from both sides.
  • Master services agreements. These are overarching, longer term contracts that set out the generic terms and conditions of working together. Then each individual specific work engagement will have another contract, but this can be shorter and easier to set up, as it doesn’t have to have all the terms and conditions in each time.
  • Vendor performance metrics. These could vary depending on the vendor and the type of resource or service they offer you. You can see the value of having metrics measured across all the work the supplier is doing for you.
  • Risk management at a vendor level – this could include regular checks on financial performance, for example, to identify vendors who may be at risk of letting you down. Knowing whether your vendors are under financial pressure can help you put mitigation plans in place. The recent issues with Carillion in the UK are an example of where a failing supplier has caused issues for projects.
  • How to get the best value out of the relationship with the vendor overall, for example, by placing several contracts with a preferred supplier and benefitting from economies of scale.

Where These Teams Are Based

Every organisation is different, so I can’t specifically tell you where your vendor management or contract management teams might be based. But generally, if your organisation is typical, this is where you will find the teams.

Contract management roles (for you, as the buyer) are likely to be in the procurement division, or with the legal team. If you are in a vendor organisation, as a contractor, for example, then your contract managers may sit with the sales team, or in the legal team.

Vendor management experts could sit with procurement, or they may be in a different area of the business. In some organisations, you will find them with the strategic project office, supporting the delivery of project contracts across the business. In large organisations with plenty of supplier relationships, they might be in a separate, dedicated business unit like a supplier management team.

What does it look like in your organisation? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted on: April 30, 2018 09:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (14)

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Thanks Elizabeth. Some large vendors and customers are joining forces in a third legal entity to create transformative services.

Thanks for sharing Elizabeth

Good one, Elizabeth and thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth, Good Points - Thanks for this !

Thank you Elizabeth. Most of you said is happening in my organization. In IT area leaders act as vendor managers always working with procurement and legal √°reas.
Also We use to have Master services agreements as you mention.

Thanks a lot Elizabeth for sharing.

Very interested for this topics !!! Nice

Thanks for sharing

Thanks for sharing Elizabeth! Very informative at distinguishing the subtle differences of organizational roles that sometimes seems to blend together.

Another excellent topic. Thanks Elizabeth!

Thanks for sharing

Elizabeth, Good Points - Thanks for this !

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