Jul 4, 2024

Elevate Your Portfolio Companies: Mastering Vendor Performance Evaluation in Contract Management

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Vendor Performance Optimized For PE and VC Firms

How often has this happened to you? You help your portfolio companies onboard a vendor who ticked all the boxes and made promises to bring heaven down to Earth for your firm and founders.

But then, several months in, you can't tell whether you're still on track or not—or, worse yet, you can't tell if they are holding up their end of the bargain. (And your founders also have no idea because no one is tracking the vendor's performance, as their time is better spent on direct income producers and profitability.)

Whether you work at a private equity firm dealing with mature companies or a venture capital firm funding startups, one thing all fund managers have in common is they care deeply about generating optimal returns. 

And an often-overlooked but pivotal aspect of achieving this success is the vendor management process.

What is vendor management?

It is the exercise of handling all aspects of partnerships with strategic vendors, from vendor onboarding to contract management to performance improvement. This last point is particularly crucial, because small and medium businesses cannot afford inefficient partnerships with their vendors, as these would open them up to risks such as additional costs and potential compliance breaches. As such, the need to track vendor performance and fix any inefficiencies is real.

But how can you seamlessly integrate this practice into your processes and make it work for your portfolio companies? That's what this post aims to tackle. The more clarity you have, the easier it becomes to implement the right systems so you never play the guessing game again.

Why Vendor Performance Evaluation Matters

Vendor performance evaluation refers to the process of assessing and tracking the performance of your suppliers and partners. This evaluation ensures that vendors meet the agreed-upon terms, deliver quality products or services, and maintain a healthy business relationship. Incorporating vendor performance evaluation into your contract management process is highly recommended for several reasons:

  1. Optimize Cost Efficiency: Regularly assessing vendor performance can help identify opportunities for cost savings and reduce operational expenses, thereby ensuring you get the most out of your investment.
  2. Quality Assurance: Ensuring that your vendors consistently meet quality standards helps maintain the integrity of your portfolio companies' products or services. High-quality vendors lead to satisfied customers and a positive brand reputation, which are key to the growth of any business.
  3. Risk Mitigation: Regular evaluation allows you to spot potential issues early on, reducing the risk of contract breaches, disruptions, security issues, or legal disputes.
  4. Continuous Improvement: Performance evaluations provide a basis for constructive feedback and opportunities for vendors to improve their services, which benefits both parties in the long run.

Improvement is only possible when we track and measure what matters:

If you don't know where the leaks are, it's hard to fix a broken pipe. Similarly, if you want your portfolio companies to perform better, investing the time to dig deeper to see where there is a need for improvement could be a game-changer for you. 

Recently, a VC firm operations manager decided to commit to streamlining vendor relationships. That included defining what performance looks like and how it would be measured. One of their startups was a food distribution company that seemed to be hitting major stumbling blocks. 

When vendor performance evaluations were initiated, they revealed that one of their key suppliers was consistently late with deliveries, leading to stockouts and lost sales.

By addressing this issue through performance reviews and collaborating on an improvement plan, the supplier improved their delivery times, which resulted in increased sales and customer satisfaction for the portfolio company.

Step-by-Step Guide to Incorporating Vendor Performance Evaluation

1) Define Clear Expectations:

Start by setting clear expectations in your contracts. Clearly outline the performance metrics, quality standards, and delivery timelines. Use straightforward and ultra-specific language to avoid ambiguity, as this is key to being able to manage vendors. Consider illustrating these expectations with concrete examples to help both parties understand precisely what is required.

Example: If you are a venture capital firm investing in a software development company, define the expected response time for resolving technical issues, the minimum number of software updates per year, and the maximum acceptable bug rate.

2) Collect and Analyze Data:

Data is one of the greatest secret weapons private equity firms have, and it can be used to help with vendor management, too.

Once the contract is in effect, collect relevant data to assess vendor performance. This could include quantitative vendor data, like delivery times, product quality, and service uptime, as well as qualitative feedback from your portfolio companies. Creating a centralized data repository can help you keep track of all this information in an efficient way and avoid losing critical bits of the puzzle, so make sure to implement one as well.

Example: If you've invested in a food delivery app, analyze data on order accuracy, on-time delivery rates, and customer feedback to gauge the vendor's performance.

3) Use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

Develop a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that are tailored to the specific needs of your portfolio companies. Make sure to consider the special challenges each portfolio company faces so you can adjust the metrics for maximum effectiveness. These vendor management KPIs will serve as a yardstick for measuring vendor performance against your expectations.

Example: For a private equity firm managing a chain of retail stores, KPIs could include sales growth, inventory turnover, and customer satisfaction scores.

4) Regular Reviews and Feedback:

Conduct regular performance reviews with your vendor partners. Be open and honest about the results of your evaluations, and provide constructive feedback. Encourage vendors to share their perspectives as well, fostering a collaborative relationship that feels more like a mutually beneficial partnership instead of a transaction.

Example: In a VC scenario, if you've invested in a marketing agency, provide feedback on the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns and listen to their suggestions for improvement.

5) Continuous Improvement Plans:

Work with your vendor partners to create action plans for improvement. These plans should outline the steps both parties will take to address performance issues and enhance future collaboration.

Example: If your firm has invested in a manufacturing company that deals with a third-party vendor partner, the improvement plan could involve enhancing production efficiency, reducing defects and risks, and increasing output.

6) Automate Monitoring and Reporting:

Use technology to streamline as much of the vendor managementas possible. That should include the vendor performance evaluation process where possible. Implement software that can automatically collect and analyze data, generate reports, and send alerts when performance falls below acceptable levels. Getting visibility of this type of data won't just amplify productivity and operational efficiency, but your finance department will thank you for the greater clarity they have on where the money is going and the ROI and value it is generating.

Example: Your VC firm can use a software platform to track, manage and report on vendor performance metrics for their portfolio companies, making the process more efficient.

7) Benchmarking and Best Practices:

Compare current vendor partner performance against industry benchmarks and best practices. Suppose you've invested in the right vendor management software. In that case, you will also see which companies are more preferred by your portfolio companies and promote the right tech stack within your ecosystem. 

Example: In the case of a private equity firm investing in a renewable energy company, benchmarking vendor performance against industry standards for clean energy production and environmental impact could be a strategic and powerful move.

8) Flexible Contract Adaptation:

Contracts should not be rigid documents. Ensure they allow for adaptations based on performance evaluations. If a vendor consistently meets or exceeds expectations, consider offering incentives, while underperforming vendors may need renegotiation or termination.

Example: A VC firm backing a tech startup could adapt contracts to offer bonuses for early product delivery or penalty clauses for missed deadlines.

9) Communication is Key

Make sure to keep the lines of communication open with your vendors. Having regular interactions can assist in addressing any issues before they become bigger problems and can also ensure that both parties are on the same page regarding their expectations and goals.

Example: For a PE firm involved with a healthcare provider, regular meetings to discuss compliance with health regulations and patient satisfaction can help improve vendor relationships.

10) Training and Development

Investing in a detailed training and development program for both your team and the vendor's team is a great way to ensure all stakeholders understand the value of vendor performance management and appreciate the process of tracking right metrics. This program should encompass a thorough understanding of the significance of supplier performance evaluation and should focus on providing the necessary skills and knowledge to utilize available the tools effectively.

Example: A VC firm might provide workshops on data analysis and performance tracking for the managers of a fintech portfolio company.

11) Recognize and Reward Excellence

We all like to be recognized for our hard work and contribution. Often, companies and firms overlook this simple yet powerful human need when dealing with their vendors. If your firm isn't doing this already, we recommend establishing simple protocols to show appreciation to your vendors when they exceed expectations and demonstrate exceptional performance.

Providing acknowledgement and praise for their outstanding work can serve as a powerful motivator, inspiring them to maintain high standards and fueling their drive for continuous improvement.

Example: If a logistics vendor for an e-commerce platform reduces delivery times, a PE firm could recognize this achievement with an award or public acknowledgment at the end of the year.

12) Review Your Evaluation Process

As with all important things in business, this is not a set it and forget it task. Make it a point to review your performance evaluation process at regular intervals to ensure that it is still relevant and effective.

Be prepared to make adjustments to your strategies as needed to stay aligned with changes in the marketplace and developments within your portfolio companies.

A good way to stay on top of things with your vendor performance management is to periodically gather feedback from relevant stakeholders, analyze performance metrics, and stay informed about industry trends to make informed decisions.

If you're using software like Proven to streamline processes involved with vendor management, the review should be stress-free. Not only do you have real-time data showing how vendors perform but you also get the chance to have inbuilt social interactions within the portfolio companies that enable everyone to openly share which vendors they use and prefer for their business operations.

Both the vendor and portfolio companies develop authentic transparency within your ecosystem ensuring everyone is serviced at the highest level. Reviewing, updating KPIs and even tracking vendor performance, therefore, becomes as easy as a few clicks.

Example: A venture capital firm may find that its SaaS portfolio companies need more frequent software updates and thus adjust the KPIs for their tech vendors accordingly.

The Power of Proactivity in Vendor Management

Vendor management may not be a prominent part of portfolio management operations, but it can become a significant challenge if not handled proactively. This is especially true when trying to optimize or control costs within a company. It's not just about catching problems early; it's also about building relationships that foster growth and success for all parties involved.

The steps we've outlined in this post are not exhaustive, but they are highly effective. By following these steps, you can create a robust system that supports your portfolio companies and significantly contributes to their—and your—bottom line.

What It Takes: Building a Win-Win Situation

The goal is to create a win-win situation where your portfolio companies thrive due to strong vendor partnerships, and vendors are motivated to deliver their best work thanks to clear expectations and The ultimate aim is to cultivate a mutually beneficial environment where your portfolio companies experience substantial growth and success as a result of forming robust partnerships with vendors. It is essential that vendors are sufficiently motivated to deliver top-quality work by being provided with well-defined expectations and positive support. By employing an effective strategy, gaining expertise in evaluating vendor performance has the potential to significantly enhance your overall contract management approach, ultimately leading to sustained achievements and a distinctive competitive position in the market positive reinforcement. With the right approach, mastering vendor performance evaluation can become a powerful component of your contract management strategy, leading to sustained success and a competitive advantage.


Private equity and venture capital firms might operate at different levels, but they share many similarities in their objectives and the means to achieve them. Technology and greater collaboration will play an integral role in helping both PE and VC firms innovate sustainably, particularly when it comes to effective vendor performance management.

While many fund managers and operations partners may not consider vendor management mission-critical, inefficiencies and losses can arise when it is left to chance. Incorporating vendor performance evaluation tools into your contract management process is a powerful strategy for enhancing the success of your portfolio companies. Start today and watch your portfolio companies thrive.

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