Tag Archives: buyers and suppliers

Is It Fair Game, Or Not OK, To Send Your Supplier A Letter Demanding Cost Cuts?

Is it acceptable – or not – to send your supplier a letter asking for a discount? You would be surprised…


Here at Procurious, we’re always trying to be progressive, challenge the status quo and push for our profession to be more innovative and value-adding. And in good news, we’re starting to see that many in our community feel the same. How do we know? 

In a now-viral post on LinkedIn, our Founder, Tania Seary, posited the question: Is it fair, or not okay, to send your supplier a letter asking for cost cuts? 50,000 views and 60 comments later, we now know this is a hot topic for our community!

It’s something we’ve debated before, but not to this degree. So in times where businesses all over the world are struggling, and there’s more pressure on procurement than ever before to secure discounts and keep organisations moving (or afloat?), is it fair game to demand cost cuts from your suppliers? Here’s a snapshot of what everyone thought … see if you agree. 

‘A stuck in the nineties’ approach

The vast majority of people who commented on our post did agree that this year has been a particularly challenging one for businesses and by association, for procurement. One Senior Procurement Director summed it up when he said: 

‘Procurement leaders need to be looking for cost reductions to support the strained financial positions of their organisations.’ 

Yet should those cost reductions come from a demand letter sent to your supplier? Many people did not think it was okay to send your supplier a letter demanding cost cuts, regardless of the organisation’s circumstances. In the main, procurement professionals thought this approach was akin to a ‘power play’ and was a little arrogant, giving off the attitude that a big organisation is simply ‘a big brand, doing it because they can.’ 

Many procurement professionals recognised that while this tactic may have been appropriate at some other time, it no longer was. In fact, many people made reference to the nineties as a time where this may have been acceptable … but realised that those days were far gone. One person noted: 

‘This practice [the practice of demanding reductions] was used at Volkswagen in the 90s under its famous CPO. Though it showed a lot of success at the time, I believe such a practice belongs to the 90s – a lot has changed since then.’ 

Why doesn’t this approach work? 

Beyond the fact that the practice of sending a letter asking for a discount seemed ‘old-school,’ many professionals noted that for at least a few reasons, this tactic doesn’t actually work. 

The first reason why people thought this wouldn’t work was because essentially, demanding a discount goes against all the good work that procurement usually does in developing meaningful and strategic supplier relationships. Procurement professionals always need to remember that suppliers exist within a delicate business ecosystem, and it’s best to manage this responsibly: 

‘Customers depend on suppliers and vice versa. It’s a big ecosystem, and [we all need to remember that] if you squeeze out small suppliers and competition lessens, costs will inevitably increase.’ 

Beyond this, though, when making demands of suppliers, procurement professionals need to remember their negotiation training, insomuch as: 

‘Blind one-size-fits-all letters are a forced outcome, not a negotiated win-win discussion.’ 

What’s the alternative? 

It seems that within the procurement community, sending letters requesting discounts is absolutely a no-go. But in a time where discounts might, for some companies, be needed more than ever, what is the alternative? 

Being the savvy community that it is, procurement professionals had plenty of better options when it came to negotiating a better price. 

The most popular suggestion was to employ a process to assess cost saving opportunities in partnership with your supplier. This would lead, according to a few different people, to the supplier further negotiating, and then a potential automatic reduction in expenses for both. 

The other option available is to negotiate better terms, a tactic used often, but which should be done through a strategic lens. One person recommended that we all should: 

‘Engage with our suppliers and explain what we need in terms of realistic cost savings and the end goal.’ 

‘You’ve got many tools at your disposal, including SRM and category management, so much so that you need never revert to the dreadful “give me money off or else” letters.’ 

Do you agree? Or would you still send a letter requesting a discount if you needed it? Let us know in the comments below.

How Not To Break Up With Suppliers: 5 Tips From the Movies

What can Hugh Grant, Will Ferrell and Homer Simpson teach us about ending important relationships in procurement?

Credit: PolyGram/Working Title Films, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Knowing me, knowing you (a-haaaa)
We just have to face it
This time we’re through
Breaking up is never easy, I know
But I have to go…

ABBA – Knowing Me, Knowing You (1976)

I’m not the first to draw a parallel between romantic break-ups and ending a relationship with a strategic supplier. The similarities are many: the relationships may have existed for years (decades in some cases), you’ve been through both good times and bad together, and sometimes your two companies are so interwoven that there can be no hope of a clean break.

But… all good things must come to an end sooner or later. Without going into the tell-tale signs of when it’s time to let a supplier go (that’s an article in itself), I’d like to concentrate on how not to end a supplier relationship. And – once again – let’s look to Hollywood to provide an illustration for each point.

1. Don’t make a shock announcement

“Ricky – you and I – we both know this marriage has been over for a long, long time.”

“I honestly did NOT know that!”

Don’t be like Carley Bobby in Talladega Nights. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a shock break-up, it’s incredibly unpleasant for the person who was hitherto living under the assumption that things were going smoothly.

Giving your suppliers no hint that the relationship isn’t working is both unfair and unprofessional. Break-up “shock” can be avoided by holding regular and ongoing catch-ups where KPIs are tracked and red flags discussed, along with honest communication about your organisation’s willingness to continue the relationship into the future.

Don’t be fake! If you’re deeply unhappy with your supplier’s performance but you’re all smiles and encouragement whenever you meet, it really won’t help the situation as the supplier will see no reason to make changes or improvements.

And who knows? If you’re able to have an honest discussion with your supplier about why you won’t be renewing their contract, it may become the catalyst for a change in behaviour that ends up removing the need to break up altogether.

2. Don’t be blasé

“Welcome to Dumpsville, population: YOU.”

Don’t be like Homer Simpson. After it’s revealed that Bart has tricked Edna Krabappel with a series of fake love letters, the Simpson family rally around to compose a final letter that will sensitively end the relationship without further breaking the heart of poor Edna. Homer, unfortunately, just doesn’t get it.

Don’t be flippant. Be serious – the decision to change suppliers can potentially impact people’s careers and livelihoods. In the case of small suppliers, it may even bring them to the brink of bankruptcy if your business makes up a high proportion of their income.

Make time for a proper conversation. Schedule a face-to-face meeting if possible, or a phone call as the next-best option – but don’t hide behind an email.

Similarly …

3. Don’t be cold

“Rhett! If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

After Rhett Butler delivers this zinger to Scarlett O’Hara in the closing moments of Gone With The Wind, she collapses sobbing on the stairwell. Scarlett is heartbroken, and clearly needs help – but Rhett has already gone, striding determinedly off into the heavy fog.

The equivalent behaviour in procurement would involve calling a supplier to end the relationship, then hanging up without giving them an opportunity to debrief and discuss. It’s entirely possible that the supplier won’t want to talk (and might even hang up on you), but if they do want a discussion you need to make yourself available.

To share a story from my FMCG days, I remember sitting next to a procurement colleague who had the unenviable job of ending a relationship with a small supplier over the phone. The call lasted about one and a half hours. After the initial, difficult part of the conversation, the supplier asked her for advice on what they should do next – and that’s when the whole tone of the conversation shifted to that of a positive coaching session. By the end of the call, the supplier was still understandably upset but also armed with plenty of advice for the future.

One last thing to keep in mind is that business requirements are cyclical. Although you may not want to work with a particular supplier any more, who knows what the situation will be a few years down the track. If you ended the relationship coldly or otherwise unprofessionally, it’s going to be very difficult to pick up from where you left off.

4. Don’t do it at the wrong time

“Do you love someone else? Do you, Charles?”

“… I do.”

Don’t be like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. While he ultimately makes the right decision, his shocking timing earns him a much-deserved punch to the face from his jilted bride.

In a way this advice contradicts what I wrote above about keeping your suppliers fully informed about how the relationship is going, but you do need to use some common sense when it comes to picking your moment.

Suppliers who value a relationship will often go the extra mile, whether this means putting more staff onto a project, or working additional hours without passing those costs on to you. It pays to keep in mind that once a supplier knows they’re soon to be let go, they may not perform with quite so much gusto in those last few weeks or months of the contract.

Another parallel to help illustrate this point is when someone in your team is working out the last few weeks of their employment after taking a redundancy – you’re never going to see their best work in that period.

5. Don’t send mixed messages

“Please don’t go.”

“I am not spending the rest of my life with a loser. I’m gone.”

 “Good, then get the hell out of my life! Who needs you? Beat it! Leave me alone! … [2 seconds later] “I’m sorry baby, I didn’t mean that either…”

Adam Sandler is at his best in this scene from Happy Gilmore where he’s alternately screaming abuse and crooning love songs into his apartment building’s intercom. While he desperately wants to stop his girlfriend leaving, he’s also consumed by a schizophrenic desire to get in the last, angry word.

Suppliers want to know where they stand with you and your organisation so they can plan for the future and invest in your relationship with confidence. Again; good communication, honesty and transparency are the way to go. Crystal-clear KPIs will help you clearly delineate where suppliers are performing well, and where they need to improve if they want their contract renewed.

The other factor that can muddy the waters of supplier relationships is misalignment within your own organisation. This can involve the supplier receiving contradictory messages from the different parts of your organisation that they work with, pulling them in different directions and ultimately harming their ability to meet your company’s overall requirements.

Do you have another example from cinema that illustrates one of the points above? Share a link below!

Why “Free Help” With Buying Decisions Costs More

As consumers, we’re wary of so-called “free” products and services as there’s always a hidden cost. Why, then, are procurement teams willing to accept free help with supplier selection?

Businesses often seek help with their buying decisions, especially in complicated categories such as telco or energy. Preparing an RFP requires a willingness to trudge through data swamps, while analysing supplier responses requires more than a strong coffee to do properly.

When a third-party broker says that they’ll help – for free – the temptation is to say yes, if only to avoid data swamps and caffeine addiction. However, you need to keep in mind that the people who help “for free” are still going to get paid, just not directly by you. They’ll collect their pay from your suppliers who are willing to pay a commission to get the opportunity to service your organisation. In turn, those suppliers recover commissions from their customers (you), either as a line item on the bill or through higher prices. In the end, you’re still paying for the service, just not up-front.

For large businesses with lots of cost centres, this can be a good way to share the cost of getting help. Branch stores pay their bills and, without realising it, pay for the help you received through higher prices. Procurement managers who use this approach can look like heroes because they claim savings and a successful outcome without having to win broad company endorsement for using expensive 3rd-party assistance.

Selecting suppliers for the wrong reasons

The danger of commission payments is that different suppliers pay different amounts. Some commissions contain a ratchet mechanism with longer contract terms, while higher contract values generate higher commissions.

Unfortunately, brokers who offer their services for free are incentivised to select the suppliers who pay them the most, rather than those who deliver the greatest value to the customer. The usual outcome is long-dated contracts with a single source supplier. At least the billing is easy, but your business will end up paying more in the long-term due to lack of value.

Up-front payments

Paying brokers up-front changes their incentives. Instead of focusing on supplier commissions, they now focus on demonstrating their value to you in a bid to win further business from your organisation. “Brokers” go upmarket and call themselves “consultants”, working harder to realise the greatest-possible savings and service levels. Customer and consultant incentives align.

The positive consequences of fee-for-service payments are shorter contract terms and more suppliers. Shorter contracts reflect a balance between testing market prices with the logistics of changing suppliers. Having more suppliers means you are able to split your requirements across the lowest priced suppliers to get the best possible price for your portfolio of demand, rather than being herded toward a single-source supplier.

“Free” services in IT

For software companies, “free” represents a gateway product, or a way of demonstrating the value of a software product to the customer. It means the software provider doesn’t have to employ a slick-suited sales person and can scale the work of their t-shirt clad developers. Salesforce, one of the leading dealers of enterprise SaaS, costs their customers on average $45,000 per annum. The entry level CRM package is $5 per user but customers quickly pay more to satisfy their needs, getting more value from the base CRM product as they buy additional features and capability.

Our approach at Kansoly is the same. We’re a cloud-based telco procurement platform for businesses running RFPs and reverse auctions. Our base product is free, where we offer to run a telco RFP for you for nothing. What’s in it for us? We gain customer insights and supplier engagement, both vital for making our product better and delivering more value to our larger, fee-paying customers. Our free customers get competition for their services and cost analysis that they would otherwise have to invest in.

Brokers and consultants have always been part of the procurement landscape, but their incentives are defined by the way they’re paid. However, the development of Saas procurement platforms increasingly means that free offers aren’t always related to low-value outcomes.

Bruce Macfarlane is the founder of Kansoly, a telco procurement platform for business. Kansoly runs RFPs and reverse auctions for data, mobile, or fixed line.

Selling While Shy: Introverts in Sales

While it sounds counter-intuitive to declare introverts make the best salespeople, their characteristics may truly make them a perfect fit for a sales job.

Last month, Procurious looked at the work of Susan Cain, and assessed whether introverts could thrive in procurement. Now, on the other side of the coin, with help from College Match Up, we look at why introverts actually might be the best sellers too.

Best Sellers

Introverts make up 50.7 per cent of the personality types in the United States. An illustrated chart of the introverted personality types shows the percentage of different introverts in the general public.

Sales jobs are expected to increase by 5 per cent in the next decade, and by 2024 there are a projected 778,000 new jobs to be created. As these jobs are created, new people will be searched for to fill them, and industry specialists will be looking for a particular skill set for a good salesperson.

Traditionally, the most defined skills for people in a sales role have included:

  • Assertiveness,
  • Self-awareness,
  • Empathy,
  • Problem-solving skills,
  • Optimism.

Not exactly a set of attributes that you would associate with introverts or introverted people. So why would introverts be useful, and potentially better, in these roles?

Key Attributes

Well, introverts are often quiet and thoughtful which works well in a sales setting, because customers are often put off by the high-energy assertive employees.

Introverts themselves prefer to be helped by other introverts, and at the same time, introverts communicate best one-on-one, which is great for a sales role, because they can really connect with their customers.

Introverts are known to form few deep attachments rather than many, shallow friendships. In a sales environment, this works because they can form deeper relationships with their customers than extroverts, leading to people trusting them more.

Finally, introverts are known for being reflective. This again ties into the sales environment, as they will be looking back on their performance and working out how they can do things better next time.

Need Convincing?

So, what kind of career options are there for introverts who want to try working in sales? Introverts might try out being advertising agents, real estate brokers, sales engineers, or travel agents to name a few.

If you still need convincing, you can check out this infographic from College Match Up:

Introverts in Sales

So what do you think? Do you think that introverts would make better sales people? Could there be a way to leverage an introvert relationship between buyers and suppliers? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.