Managing Underperforming Vendors

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Published: 2024/05/08 By: Tom Lazenby

Ever been in that position where you’ve picked a vendor who looks shiny on paper but ends up failing to deliver on the primary deliverables?

You’re deep in the vendor selection process, wading through proposals, and one vendor stands out, shining brighter than the rest. They talk a big game, promising flawless execution. But as the project unfolds, the cracks start to show, and you’re left holding the bag with a six-month delay and some seriously unhappy stakeholders.

Managing underperforming vendors isn’t for the faint-hearted, but with a bit of strategy and a whole lot of communication, you can navigate these choppy waters. Let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of how to handle this.

The Curious Case of the Promising Vendor

This anecdote emerged from Mayet’s research into the core challenges of clinical trial vendor management.

You can learn more about this session and book a slot to attend a 1:1 briefing with me here:

Picture this:

You’re at the final stages of selecting a vendor for a critical project – setting up multiple sites for a massive study. Among a sea of candidates, one vendor stands out. They come with glowing reviews, impressive references, and a portfolio that suggests they could do anything.

Convinced they’re the best fit, you sign the contract. The clock starts ticking, and the deadlines approach. Weeks turn into months, and progress is slow. Frustration builds as you discover delays, gaps in execution, and a worrying lack of expertise. Meetings after meetings, the vendor tries to explain away the problems with excuses that don’t quite add up.

One day, a crucial realisation descends: this vendor simply doesn’t have the capabilities to deliver. They’ve bitten off more than they can chew. What you’ve got is a six-month delay, a looming project start date, and a whole lot of frustrated stakeholders.

Managing the Fallout

So, how do you manage this mess? Here’s how:

  1. Acknowledge the Reality: First, accept the situation. It’s painful, but denial won’t move the project forward. Communicate the problem clearly to all stakeholders, no sugar-coating.
  2. Conduct a Root Cause Analysis: Dig deep to understand how this vendor slipped through the cracks. Was it a failure in vetting, miscommunication, or just pure misrepresentation? This insight is vital for preventing similar mishaps.
  3. Establish an Emergency Plan: Quickly gather your internal team and any trusted partners to create an action plan. This includes assessing whether the vendor can be salvaged through additional training or support, or if you need to replace them entirely.
  4. Engage with the Vendor: If they remain in the picture, communicate clearly about their underperformance and the consequences. This might involve renegotiating terms or even invoking penalty clauses.
  5. Find a New Vendor (if necessary): If you’re going to replace them, find a more reliable vendor. Utilize lessons learned from the first selection process, including more rigorous checks and a realistic assessment of their capabilities.
  6. Adjust Timelines and Expectations: Six months is a significant delay, so reset the project timelines and expectations. Keep stakeholders in the loop about new timelines to manage expectations effectively.
  7. Implement Continuous Monitoring: Moving forward, institute tighter monitoring of vendor performance. Regular status reports, milestone checks, and frequent communication can help prevent future mishaps.

The story of the promising vendor who couldn’t deliver is a harsh reminder of the importance of thorough vetting, clear communication, and flexibility. While it’s a tough pill to swallow, it provides valuable lessons in vendor management, ensuring future projects have a higher chance of success.

Managing Underperforming Vendors

Let’s kick things off with the nitty-gritty of managing underperforming vendors, shall we? Grab a coffee and settle in, because we’re diving into practical ways to keep your vendors on track.

1. Nail Down the Expectations

Before anything else, set clear goals and align everyone’s understanding of what’s expected. A robust contract or SLA will cover the entire scope of work, timelines, and performance metrics. Make it bulletproof so you don’t get into ‘he said, she said’ territory.

Regularly revisit and revise these expectations (ideally track them closely) in light of changing project dynamics. Keeping your documentation up to date ensures everyone knows where they stand, helping you steer clear of unnecessary misunderstandings and allowing quick pivots when things go sideways.

2. Keep the Communication Channels Open

Effective communication is the cornerstone of vendor management. The 3 Es are my go to for communciation:

  • Expectations: Take care to ensure that your vendors are acutely aware of the expected delvierable and standards required from the partnership.
  • Engagement: Schedule regular check-ins to review progress. Make these interactions productive and focused on solutions.
  • Escalation: If things start to go awry have a process in place for how issues and quality events are escalated back to you so that you can take timely actions. Encourage vendors to share their insights and concerns openly.

3. Deliver Feedback Like a Pro

Timely and specific feedback is crucial for managing underperformance. Vague comments won’t help anyone, so be precise about what went wrong and what needs to change. Timeliness matters; the sooner you address issues, the easier they are to fix.

When vendors see that you’re actively engaged and invested in the project’s success, they’re more likely to respond positively to feedback. This dynamic can motivate them to correct course quickly, preventing minor issues from escalating.

4. Action Plans and Follow-ups

Feedback alone won’t cut it; you need a plan. Collaborate with your vendor to outline an actionable roadmap, assigning roles and deadlines for each task. Mutual commitment to this plan ensures everyone’s on the same page.

Regular follow-ups are essential to keep things on track and identify any further adjustments. Flexibility is key – adjust the plan as circumstances evolve to ensure the project remains on target.

5. When It’s Time to Escalate

Despite your best efforts, sometimes underperformance persists. If your action plans aren’t working, it’s time to escalate within the vendor’s organisation. But do so carefully and professionally, ensuring that all previous efforts have been documented.

Properly managing escalation ensures that you have a clear rationale for moving up the chain. Should contract termination or legal action become necessary, you’ll have a solid foundation for your decisions.

6. Review, Evaluate, and Learn

Consistent reviews and evaluations help identify underperformance and recognise areas where vendors excel. Reinforcing positive behaviours encourages excellence and highlights what works well.

This process should be comprehensive, evaluating both outcomes and collaboration quality. The insights gained will help improve your approach to vendor selection and management in the future.

7. Think Beyond the Basics

It’s important to keep an eye on broader factors that could impact performance, like market conditions, regulatory changes, or internal changes within the vendor’s organisation. Understanding these can reveal deeper insights into underperformance and potential remedies.

Invest in your vendors’ growth. Whether through training or shared resources, helping them improve will ultimately benefit your projects. Treating your vendors as partners rather than just service providers fosters a relationship that’s both productive and resilient.

How Mayet Adds Value

In clinical trial vendor management, delays and underperformance can derail timelines, inflate costs, and risk the quality of research. Mayet tackles these challenges head-on by transforming outdated vendor management practices into streamlined, efficient operations.

Streamlining Communication: Efficient communication is critical, and Mayet’s system provides centralised, real-time updates, making regular check-ins seamless and transparent. Issues are flagged early, facilitating quick, collaborative problem-solving.

Providing Actionable Feedback: Specific feedback is vital for improvement. Mayet’s tools help you document performance against metrics, enabling swift, precise, and actionable feedback, reducing project risks.

Developing Action Plans and Tracking Progress: Mayet simplifies the creation of action plans with vendors, assigning roles and tracking deadlines. Automated follow-ups ensure consistent progress, with alerts for any deviations from the plan.

Escalating When Needed: When issues require escalation, Mayet provides detailed reports and a history of interactions, giving you the leverage and information needed for critical conversations or decisions.

Comprehensive Reviews and Learning: Mayet enables comprehensive performance reviews, storing data that inform future strategies. You can analyse patterns and adjust your vendor management approach for future success.

Keeping an Eye on the Bigger Picture: Mayet’s tools adapt to changes in your outsourcing landscape, ensuring vendor intelligence is communicated back to users to inform decision making.


Managing underperforming vendors is like untangling a mess, but it’s doable with the right approach. Once you’ve accepted the reality, get to the root cause, put together a solid emergency plan, and communicate clearly with your vendor to get them on track—or boot them out the door.

Regular follow-ups and solid documentation will keep things moving. And hey, even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, so when escalation is inevitable, approach it with a firm hand. Learn from these experiences and continually refine your process for the next time.

With Mayet’s solutions, you can streamline communication, deliver precise feedback, and maintain tight oversight to keep your vendors aligned and your projects on course.

Tom Lazenby

Tom is the Founder and CEO of Mayet. Using his experience in streamlining operations and driving innovation in clinical research, Tom is dedicated to enhancing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and risk mitigation strategies for vendor management and oversight.

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