Five Ways to Stay Out of the “Vendor Zone”

Article by Enerfab Executive Vice President of Fabrication – Sales Dan Creech

We all know about the “friend zone,” right? When a person says to you, “I like you as a friend.”  It’s that dreaded place you never want to be. Well  … there’s an equivalent place in business relationships that is equally uncomfortable: the Vendor Zone.

The Vendor Zone happens when your customers see your relationship as simply transactional — they need a thing; you have it. Money is exchanged, and the transaction is complete.

Who you want to be — in the “meet the parents” type of business relationship — is a solutions provider. No matter which industry you’re in or which industries you serve, you want your customers to see you as a partner that sits on the same side of the table as them, and who’s as concerned with solving their problems as you are making money.

Here are five critical things you can do to be a solutions provider and stay out of the “Vendor Zone.”

Be a Good Listener

What’s the old saying? “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Yes, that’s true, but being a good listener is about more than waiting to hear what your customers tell you.

Being a good listener means asking good questions:

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What do you wish someone would take off your plate?
  • What are your goals?
  • How could we help you achieve those goals?

Asking probing, unexpected questions can help you understand the customer’s entire project/goals outside of the RFQ and beyond the “Do you want fries with that?” conversation. You’ll know when you’ve hit the right question when your customer opens right up and goes on and on.

That’s when it’s time to sit back and listen.

Offer More

Lagniappe — the gift of a little more. Traditionally it’s a small gift given at the time of purchase to sweeten the deal. But broadly speaking, it represents a spirit of generosity in business dealings — the opposite of the scarcity mindset.

At Enerfab, we bring this to life by acknowledging that although we may not always be the ones who have the solutions to our partners’ problems, we’re always willing to help identify the most effective way to help. By being the solutions provider, we ensure that our partners will keep coming back to us, not only for the work we do but also because of how generous we are with our knowledge and expertise.

Be Transparent

If you’re faking it until you make it, you probably won’t make it. At least that’s been my experience in my career at Enerfab.

In this industry, if you don’t do what you say, you’ll get exposed pretty quickly. Missed deadlines, overages, change orders — at the end of the day, it’s easy to tell when the unforeseeable has happened and when someone bit off more than they could chew.

We’ve always taken the approach of, “Give us the smaller project. We’ll do it so well that you’ll give us a bigger one and an even bigger one after that.”

Never be afraid to say no to a project that’s not a good fit for you, and be transparent about why. Your customers will respect and trust you for it.

Be Creative

“Solutions” might seem obvious once they’re implemented and working. But in the planning stage they are far from it. Thinking outside the box and applying existing knowledge to new circumstances is critical to becoming the solutions provider that your customers can always turn to.

Creativity isn’t just something that happens by accident — a spark of inspiration. Rather, it’s something that you can cultivate by leaning on the experience, knowledge, and expertise of your people, and by staying current on the goings-on in your customers’ industries.

Be Flexible

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Being flexible is the “solutions provider” to being creative. The ability to work differently — proactively and reactively adjusting to new circumstances — is what makes it possible to execute new ideas.

At Enerfab, we’re always exploring new ways to work flexibly within the constraints of our customers’ challenges. We frequently offer alternate contracts that package or bundle our work to provide the best possible solutions to our customers.

Want to learn more?

If you’re wanting a deeper dive in what we can do, send us a note at and someone from our business development team will be with you right away.
About Dan Creech
Dan began working with Enerfab in March 2002 as a Project Manager, and has served in sales, marketing, and management positions.

As Executive Vice President of Fabrication, Dan implements and executes strategies to ensure profitable growth, with a heavy emphasis on project management and client relationships.

Before joining Enerfab Dan worked as an outside sales manager with Mutual Mfg. & Supply, a position he had held since graduating from Miami University. He enjoys mentoring inner-city youth through Adopt-a-Class, an initiative supported by Enerfab that connects businesses with students in need.