What makes your best supplier relationship special?
I’ve been examining key providers of technology solutions in my environment over the past year. I’m interested in where their technology provides solutions for business delivery, potential overlap of services, underutilized solutions, and supplier involvement in our business relationship. A relationship characteristic I find unappealing is a supplier I only hear from during renewals. In my experience, unfortunately, this is the case for most providers in the technology space.
The suppliers that know about my technology environment, business processes, compliance regulations, and industry are the ones that make the strategic partner list. Why? Because they care about how their solution is used in my environment. They continuously probe for new applications of their services. They ask questions. They help find resolutions to problems. They don’t just make a sale and disappear.
Everyone says this but how many really do it?
I like how the Toyota Way states this in Principle 11 – Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.
Most business professionals would not argue against the premise of this principle. But how many suppliers live the words? The big idea here is to raise the expectations for suppliers by challenging them to be better providers. In the eyes of Toyota this is a way to show respect. The supplier must recognize challenges as the opportunities to get better and see the linkage to their overall success as well.
But it takes two. This isn’t a one-sided relationship. It means the buyer participates by sharing details and asking for solutions. The buyer seeks a fair price but prioritizes partnership and value-add over the lowest cost. The buyer makes time to strengthen the relationship with an eye towards maximizing the value of both the solution provided and the overall relationship.
I fired a couple of suppliers this year.
I fired a couple of suppliers this year because they weren’t living up to this standard. (There could be more to come.) When I gave notice of service discontinuation, the account representatives didn’t reach out to me to discuss. This lack of action proved my point about their overall approach to selling their service. The only interactions I had with them was approving invoices they sent.
I have regular contact with some other suppliers. We talk about how to better leverage what my company has already purchased, how their solution could solve more of our challenges, and how to solve new business problems. We improve when they improve and vice versa. When this happens, the conversation changes from the features of the supplier’s solution into how the solution the supplier provides relates to business process flows in my business. So, what makes the best supplier relationships special? Learning and growing together. The selling and purchasing are the reward for solving problems, not the means to meet a sales quota.
Onward and upward!
Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/afd8DD – Together by JD Hancock via Creative Commons