Tag Archives: supplier relationship management

Suppliers: Partners not Punching Bags

If suppliers are treated as part of the team, rather than punching bags, it can actually help to accelerate procurement’s ability to add value.

Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

When you are hiring employees, do you focus just on the salary negotiations?  With the only goal being to get the lowest cost talent?  No, because we know the value we are going to receive from that individual is through many years of ideas, quality work and the leadership they provide to others.   

The price negotiation is a point in time, while the relationship is the multiplier.   

The same holds true with suppliers.   

As you look across our supply base, procurement has a range of suppliers from “high potential” to “needs improvement”.  As we do with top performing teams, procurement has the opportunity to cultivate high potential suppliers through exposure, stretch assignments, and trust. 

There is also an opportunity to manage up or out the “needs improvement” suppliers by developing their capabilities and giving them the opportunity to improve.  Through this approach, procurement now has the ability to discuss with their new-found talent how to creatively reduce total cost of ownership, to solve problems, and to provide innovative solutions.  

When trusted are offered development opportunities, suppliers will go above and beyond for the customer.  They assign their best people on the account.  They look for ways to improve the relationship, reduce costs, and proactively call out risks.  And, in times of short supply, will serve their preferred customer of choice first.   

Through one change in perspective, one change in a relationship, procurement achieves lower TCO, lower risk, more innovation, and a reliable supply chain – this is the key to delivering value.   

The Next Big Idea in Procurement  

Procurement is on the brink of significant change, as are many more areas of our lives.  There will be many big ideas that brilliant procurement professionals implement into their organisations to support the advancements in technology, the new expectations of talent, and techniques to add value well beyond cost.  These are exciting times to lead, inspire, and create within procurement.   

Each year a small group of influential procurement thought leaders gather in Chicago for the Procurious Big Ideas Summit.  Participants are inspired and take back many big ideas for their personal growth as well for their organisations.    

While technology advancements often receive a lot of focus, perhaps the biggest shift within procurement is the expectation to move beyond cost to becoming value providers.  Procurement is being challenged to find new ways to reduce risk, increase sustainability, to help solve complex business problems, to increase revenue, to generate new innovations, to become an internal consultant to their stakeholders to obtain the best out of every investment. 

This expectation is becoming more pronounced and will allow procurement to analyse how they measure success, the skills their talent need, and even what technology they might need to deploy.   

Those organisations who make this change exceptionally well will also realise that their suppliers offer a limitless capability to accelerate procurements’ ability to add value.  When suppliers are treated as an extension of the supply chain, as part of the team, the relationship with suppliers also moves beyond cost.  In fact, one could argue that becoming a customer of choice to suppliers is the key to unleashing value, reducing risk, increasing innovation, and achieving agility within the supply chain.    

Leading the Supply Base 

An idea is just an idea until it is implemented, so how do procurement organisations get started with this change?  Below are some low investment ways to start this journey. 

  • Toss out outdated segmentations – Start looking at the supply base like one would talent.  Understand high potential suppliers, remain in role, and need improvement suppliers.  This does not need to be complicated nor does this need to be scientific.  Without putting much effort into this, the top performers and the lowest performers could be listed.  Start there.   
  • Offer development programmes – As one would with their internal talent, offer programmes that will help suppliers operate with excellence.  These programmes can even be supplier funded, but it shows suppliers that procurement cares about their success.  It develops a relationship where it is understood that procurement is only as good as their suppliers.  When suppliers perform at their best, procurement, suppliers, and the communities around them all benefit. 
  • Think differently about procurement’s role – When procurement starts thinking about their role as a hiring manager to suppliers, it creates a change within every interaction.  Set the expectation that a procurement manager’s role is to lead their team of suppliers to success.  This will have downstream impacts around measurements and skills needed but starting here will start the cultural change needed for success.   

Procurement is on the move.  These are indeed exciting times to renew the spirit of what procurement is all about.  Let’s not be overwhelmed and paralysed by the amount of opportunity.  The best thing to do now is to start.  Start taking the small steps that will create big change and the next big ideas.   

As the Big Ideas Summit Chicago facilitator, Amanda Prochaska will be harnessing the biggest and brightest ideas presented. You don’t need to be “in the room where it happens” – you can register as a digital delegate and get up-skilled and uplifted from the comfort of your own desk.  Register now by clicking here.

The Secret of Successful Supplier Selection

Still using cost as a primary criteria for supplier selection? Our latest webinar shares all the secrets you need for success.

Have you been tasked with running a selection process for a new supplier but don’t know where to start?  Perhaps you’ve been using the same routine for years but feel it’s time to freshen it up?  Are the old ways just not delivering the outcomes you need?

In our recent Procurious-Ivalua Webinar, Critical Success Factors for Supplier Selection, our panel of experts revealed the secrets to how they get the outcomes they want from their sourcing processes. 

Here are five great take-aways from that discussion.

Supplier Selection – Get the Balance Right

Our panel reported that many organisations are not yet on a path that leads away a cost-driven focus.  Tech tools that are available to help with future cost modelling mean procurement can go to the market with uncertainty about this type of risk reduced.  When cost risk is managed this leaves the way clear for the road to value. 

A great example quoted in the discussion was a utility contract. The focus was on value rather than cost. It led to costs being reduced and also meant a more sustainable outcome was delivered. This lowered usage and introduced measures to promote sustainability. 

Can you introduce a selection process that balances cost, value and your organisation’s wider sustainability goals to select a supplier who is right for you?

Remember, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Making sure a supplier is a good cultural fit for the organisation is a key requirement that all our panel members stressed.  Think about the impact of a cultural misalignment on your organisation’s reputation or brand.  

Cultures vary across the world and getting a cultural fit when you’ve got a global supply chain is hard. However, there are many things on which the buyer and supplier can agree. How about meeting with your supplier’s leadership team as part of the sourcing process? This would allow you to assess their management ethos to make sure that the cultural fit is there right from the start?

The unknown unknowns

Managing external factors and risks, particularly those that are not yet known, are something that supplier selection process is often expected to address.  All panel members reported the challenge of grappling with the unknown unknowns in the current period of global upheaval and change. 

The advent of technology-driven real time data is something panel members welcomed to manage supplier and supply chain risk.  It’s also a great way to check and monitor supplier financial health. 

Make use of the new tools that are available to ensure your organisation is prepared and have a backstop position to allow a response when situational or supplier risks change.

Be a customer of choice

When it came to the supplier-buyer relationship our panel had very clear advice.  Whether we’re a supplier or a buyer, we’re all looking of a return on the investment in the relationship we’re about to have.  Focus clearly on the outcomes both sides are trying to achieve. 

Make sure you put yourself in the seat of your supplier’s sales director – how can a contract with your organisation provide a supplier with the opportunity for fair value earnings or a sustainable revenue stream?

Start the conversation

Changing the way your organisation selects suppliers will not happen overnight.  When you’re engaging with stakeholders our panel advises you to talk in their terms not the language of procurement. 

Will the change you’re proposing add value?  Why will it improve customer experience?  Why could it safeguard or improve reputation?

So, go ahead and pick one of the secrets that the webinar panel shared as being critical factors for success and start that conversation with the business today.

A recording of the Procurious-Ivalua Webinar – Critical Success Factors for Selecting Your Suppliers with panel members Gordon Tytler, Rolls Royce, Stephen Carter, Ivalua, Fred Nijffels, Accenture and host Tania Seary, Procurious is available here.

Supplier Failure – Are You as Protected as You Think?

Supplier failure and collapse on a massive scale – it’ll never happen to you, right? How do you really think you’re doing to help protect your organisation from the fallout?

By Sergey Novikov/ Shutterstock

London, July 2017. Despite an “encouraging start to the year”, the warnings are coming thick and fast on Carillion. By November 2017, the company has issued its third profit warning in five months and things are looking bleak. And in mid-January 2018, despite the deferral of two financial covenants, the company collapses into liquidation.

In the days that follow, the investigations and enquiries begin. How did a company so integral to so many high value and high profile UK Government projects get into such trouble? Where and how did billions of pounds worth of contracts become over £1.5 billion worth of debt?

And, perhaps most importantly of all, how did numerous civil servants, Government contract specialists and expert financial consultants not see it coming?

2018 – The Year of Demises

The demise of a construction giant will go on to leave an enormous hole for the UK Government to fill in order to continue providing key services across the country such as school meals and hospital and prison cleaning, and ensuring that the 19,500 employees delivering public services are able to be paid.

The final cost to the UK taxpayer is estimated to be more than £148 million, but the knock-on effects will be felt for some time to come. Late last year it was reported that there had been a 20 per cent rise in insolvencies in the construction industry as sub-contractors and small businesses struggled following Carillion’s collapse.

But 2018 wasn’t finished there. Fast-forward a little more than ten months and the unthinkable happened again. Twice. First, one of Carillion’s key competitors, Interserve, issued a warning on the state of its finances and increasing debt predictions to between £625 million and £675 million in 2018.

Then just before Christmas, Healthcare Environmental Services (HES), a key provider in the disposal of medical and clinical waste, closed its doors with the loss of nearly 200 jobs and leaving the NHS and Local Authorities scrambling to ensure that services could be delivered by another organisation.

Where did it go wrong?

If your procurement department was anything like mine, then all three situations dominated conversations for weeks after these public announcements. Beyond the usual, “well, I’m glad that wasn’t us”, and the frantic checking to understand exposure, questions were starting to be asked.

Give a procurement professional long enough and they’ll be able to pick through the wreckage of a broken contract and understand roughly where things went wrong. And frequently, lines are drawn back to the contract or contracts put in place and the overall management of this.

But in these cases, and particularly in the case of Carillion, there was a general disbelief that something like this could have been allowed to happen. After all, how was the overall performance of the supplier missed? And just why, even though it was clear that there were serious financial difficulties, was Carillion awarded more contracts to help bolster its financial position?

Like me, maybe you thought, “I’d like to have seen the procurement process for that one.” Or maybe you wouldn’t…

And probably just as likely, even though you tell yourself that it would never happen on one of your contracts, you go back to check. You know, just to be 100 per cent sure that all your checks and balances are in place.

Checks and Balances

What has subsequently been reported is that Carillion, in conjunction with its appointed internal auditor Deloitte, had been, “”unable or unwilling” to identify failings in financial controls, or “too readily ignored them””. This is where there may be some explanation or sympathy for the procurement process.

In the public sector, as in the private sector, procurement will work in tandem with other departments in its organisation to ensure the robustness of the contract and the suitability of the supplier. As part of public tendering exercises, there are a two stages in which this can happen for Economic and Financial standing assessment.

The first comes as part of the European Single Procurement Document (ESPD). Buyers will outline the minimum financial requirements for the contract, usually linked to contract value, complexity, volume and length, as part of their Contract Notice and ESPD. This can be, for example, a positive outcome for pre-tax profits for the previous 3 years, and/or certain outcomes linked to financial accounting ratios.

Suppliers will confirm that they comply with this and at this stage may provide evidence for this. This is backed up by the second stage for financial checks, the Request for Documentation (RfD). The RfD allows for this evidence to be requested by procurement of successful suppliers as a final check before contract award. These checks then provide the comfort that the supplier has a firm financial footing to undertake the contract.

The key issue here, and in the case of Carillion, is that the assessments are only as good as the information that is filed and provided.

Procurement’s Role and Remit

As with many of the challenges in the public sector, we’re left asking the question of what is procurement’s role and remit in this situation. There needs to be an understanding that procurement can only do so much. However, what they do have the responsibility to do needs to be done correctly.

In the Carillion example, procurement may asked all the right questions, but if the evidence provided isn’t accurate, it still wouldn’t have made any difference. Procurement can put in the ground work up front, before they even get to the stage of requesting responses to ESPDs and the like.

When looking at your next contracts, make sure that you have the following:

  • An accurate specification – this will fully outline the scope of requirements and the supplier’s responsibilities;
  • Estimated project volumes – based on historical usage data where applicable, otherwise linked to the specification requirements;
  • Market analysis – who are the suppliers that are likely to bid for this work? What is the overall market spend like with the top suppliers?; and
  • Understanding of current contracts – which suppliers have won the most business from you recently? Is anyone looking like they may have capacity issues?

Working with key stakeholders across the organisation is critical. Not only will this improve the accuracy of the data that is issued with the contract, but it will also mean that there’s an overall understanding of who is actually best placed to cope with the new package of work. Particularly if one supplier seems like they are overstretching themselves.

Then it’s back to a footing of openness and honesty with suppliers so that any potential issues with financial performance are flagged up well ahead of time. Build that relationship with your suppliers and you may help to head off a situation where it’s your contract on the front page of the newspaper next time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

How Networking Can Help You Find The Best Suppliers

How can procurement professionals use social networking to find competitive suppliers?

By Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock

As procurement professionals continue to look for more efficient ways to grow and optimise their supply network to meet demands, the supply market analysis (sourcing) process should be streamlined through online networks, such as Procurious, and offline networks including industry conferences, mixers and memberships.

I recently conducted a research study to investigate how social networking, both online and offline, influences the relationship between supply market analysis and cost reduction. Through online survey responses from existing and former procurement professionals, data was collected to establish the foundation of this concept. Pursuant to a seven-point Likert scale, a total of 51,485 survey participants were asked a series of questions in the context of three areas: supply market analysis, social networking, and cost reduction.

In general, it was discovered that procurement professionals do use social networking to find competitive suppliers. However, the study also revealed that social networking, in and of itself, is not a universal solution for identifying competitive suppliers. Rather, it is another option for finding suppliers that ultimately impact cost reduction. When considering the competitiveness of the supply market, roughly 77 per cent of procurement professionals indicated that their supply market was highly competitive. This suggested that most professionals have the option to switch to alternative suppliers. Social networking revealed that when looked at as a linear combination of network range, network size, and network strength, it amplifies the relationship between supply market analysis and cost reduction. Furthermore, there is an opportunity for professionals to enhance the way they source by concentrating on certain dimensions of social networking.

The post hoc analysis uncovered two key insights regarding the dimensions of a procurement professional’s social network:

1. There is a lack of significance related to network size

2. Network range and network strength foster more social networking value.

Procurement professionals can accomplish this by cultivating closer relationships with their social contacts, and by increasing the communication frequency with their contacts. By doing so, they can effectively organise their social network to source suppliers who ultimately provide improved reduction in costs. When procurement professionals reflected on cost reductions achieved from purchasing decisions, they agreed that they experienced a cost reduction. Approximately, 44 per cent of professionals conveyed that they experienced cost reductions considerably higher than expected based on their actions. This suggested that purchasing decisions can have an impact on cost reduction.

The constructs of supply market analysis, social networking, and cost reduction were adopted from existing research to substantiate the framework of the study. Supply market analysis was measured according to a supply market profile, which considered the competitiveness of the supply market, the number of capable suppliers in the supply market, and the switching costs of the supply market. Social networking was measured through three dimensions of social networking: network size, network range, and network strength. Network strength considered the interaction frequency, relationship duration, and emotional intensity of a connection. Network range contemplated the diversity of contacts in a social network. Network size assessed the total group of links that a person has with another one’s total of information channels. Cost reduction was measured through cost performance, in terms of broad retrospective results. For example, higher than average cost reductions were achieved and cost reductions were considerably higher than expected.

This study revealed opportunities to expand sourcing strategies without limiting the sourcing approach. Social networking can be integrated as part of a hybrid sourcing approach of traditional sourcing schemes to improve cost. When compared to traditional strategic sourcing tactics, understanding the role of social networking can be a viable way to link innovation with the sourcing process. The linkage thus relates to improved cost performance as confirmed by the data collected from procurement professionals.

The content of this article was taken from Adam Cockrell’s dissertation – Supply Market Analysis: The moderating effect of social networking on cost reduction – DePaul University.

Delays and Overspend – Do Your Contracts Have Your Back?

If the pot of gold at a contract’s end is realised savings, why do so few contracts provide adequate cover for completion delays and overspend? It’s time for the public sector to get serious about damages.

By Everett Collection /Shutterstock

In procurement we are no strangers to contracts overrunning or budgets being exceeded. As hard as procurement professionals try, sometimes it’s just not possible to get a contract placed in time, have works completed to schedule, or stay within the original budget.

In the public sector, the negative outcomes associated with these contracts are magnified. After all, they are usually delivering public services or infrastructure, and spending public money. The root cause for delays and overspend this can frequently be tracked to poor contract or relationship management, scope creep or unrealistic cost or project estimates at the outset.

While many of the issues can be attributed to internal process, with the public sector very much its own worst enemy, sometimes external suppliers and contractors are at fault. However, in many cases, the contracts that have been agreed and signed lack the clauses that would help protect procurement and the wider organisations against the costs associated with the delays.

As the challenge of delivering projects on time and in budget increases, we have to asked the question – why is public sector procurement so bad at using liquidated damage or penalty clauses in contracts?

High Profile Failures

Before taking a closer look at the clauses that could assist the public sector in their contracts, let’s have a look at some of the most high profile examples of projects that have suffered colossal overruns or budgetary overspends.

It won’t take you very long to find some examples in the media of these projects. What these 4 have in common is that even though some of the fault lay or lies with contractors, the public sector (and therefore the taxpayer) was and are the one to shoulder the burden of additional costs.

In 1997, a plan was put in place to build a new home for the recently re-established Scottish Executive (to become the Scottish Government). Initial estimates for the project were a total budget of £10-40m and an opening date of January 2004. By the time the building opened in October 2004, the total cost had risen to £414.1m (a figure confirmed in 2007).

Despite an enquiry stating that the wrong type of construction contracts had been used at the outset, and claims of contractors overcharging, no legal action was taken against contractors to recoup any costs.

  • London Olympics and Paralympics

Although the Games frequently have Olympic-sized budgetary overruns, the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 took the gold medal for the most expensive summer games ever. When London won the right to host in 2005, the budget was estimated at £2.4 billion. By the time the games were completed, the total cost ran to over £8.7 billion.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), essentially a private company, were criticised for the contracts it put in place, particularly for security for the Games. However, in the end, the UK taxpayer ended up footing the bill for the new budget.

Another project that looked to re-introduce a service that had been lost to the City of Edinburgh, the trams were originally budgeted at £545 million and be completed by 2011. In the end, the network delivered was only a third of what was originally planned, cost £776 million and didn’t start operating until 2014.

Again the finger was pointed at the contracts being used and courts found against Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE), the public company responsible for project delivery, on a number of dispute with the main contractor. However, there was never any money recovered from contractors, leaving the taxpayer out of pocket again.

  • Crossrail

The most recent and still incomplete example of the group. At the time of writing, the project is already 9 months delayed to start operating, received 3 bailouts in 2018 totalling over £2 billion, and is already £600 million over budget. Even these estimates may prove to be lower than the actual final cost, and currently there is no agreement on who will shoulder this burden.

It’s all very well saying that contracts were at fault for these delays and budget issues, but the specifics of this are rarely highlighted. For example, were clauses put in place in the contract to help return money to the Local Authority or Government where delays occurred? This brings us round to our focus – Liquidated Damages.

Your Contract Shield

Liquidated Damages – A fixed or determined sum agreed by the parties to a contract to be payable on breach by one of the parties.

Before we do anything else, let’s caveat that in the examples above, and in many other cases, the fault may lie with the contracting authority in part or wholly. In this case, Liquidated Damages would be as much use as a chocolate fireguard. But where it can be proven that the contractor is at fault, then we’re in business.

The important part of the definition above is that the damages are a fixed sum, agreed by both parties up front. Damages which aren’t agreed in advance and have no set value are classed as penalty clauses, and are unenforceable in most contracts.

The key is for work to be done up front on this between the contracting parties. This means that levels of damages are agreed and aren’t subject to challenge further down the line. The damages also have to be realistic in line with estimates of the costs of a breach of contract, including delays to completion or commissioning.

For example, if you have a construction project, you might look at the day rate being charged by the contractor and agreed that this will be the rate used for damages per day in the event of delays. For the most part, Liquidated Damages will likely be capped at a certain value (say 20 per cent of the total contract value), providing a level of fairness for both sides.

Setting Up Your Clauses

Clearly, given the intricacies of the laws surrounding contracts, this isn’t something that procurement should be approaching in isolation. If you do feel that your contract would benefit from a Liquidated Damages clause, then you should engage at the earliest opportunity with your Legal department.

Make sure the clauses are set up correctly and called out clearly in the contract. Once you have awarded your tender, you should take time to speak to the successful supplier. This will ensure that the clause is agreed to and everyone is aware of the full implications of it.

No-one wants to use these clauses in contracts – it suggests that something has gone wrong in the contract management, plus the damages aren’t going to cover the full extent of the costs too. But by having them in place to begin with, procurement can help to limit the possible damage to their organisation in the event that budgets or schedules go awry.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and the series of articles on the challenges facing public sector procurement in 2019. Leave your comments below, or get in touch directly, I’m always happy to chat!

7 Supplier Negotiation Fails We’ve All Experienced

Every procurement professional knows that supplier negotiations aren’t always plain sailing – and we’re sure you’ll relate to these seven scenarios.

By Oleksii Sidorov/ Shutterstock

It’s happened to even the best negotiators.  Leaving a negotiation with less than desired results might even be called a rite of passage for procurement professionals. It’s frustrating and time consuming but there are learnings to gain from every disappointing negotiation.

Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning, interviewed seven procurement leaders to find out their most notable negotiation fails.

1. Pushing too hard

Using competition to push your advantage and lock it into a contract can be counterproductive. I recall a negotiation performed for a global IT project, during which we closed what looked like a great deal secured by a complete and detailed contract. Once the project began, the vendor quickly started to lose money. Having no leverage and way out from the contract, he eventually decided to stop the project. Ultimately, to continue our working relationship, we had to sit down together, find solutions and find fair compromises to make the project a success. Olivier Cachat, Chief Procurement Officer, IWG

2. Internal alignment

Involving executive leadership into a critical negotiation can be a very powerful ‘tool’, when done in a very concerted way. Our main objective was to secure supply for this material and ideally get a price concession when allocating more volume to this supplier. We briefed the President of our BU and explained the situation. We also explained in much detail that anything beyond a three per cent price reduction is very unlikely and that this supplier would rather threaten us to stop supply. While the first part of the actual negotiation was going well, our president decided to our complete surprise to become very aggressive with our supplier by threatening him to move to a different supplier if they would not reduce pricing by at least -15 per cent. Not only was that very insulting to our supplier, but it was also a complete bluff and our supplier knew that we were not able to move away within any reasonable/manageable timeframe. As a consequence, our supplier stood up and left the meeting, stating that we have one week to think about his offer to raise pricing by +5 per cent as they would otherwise stop supplying us. It took me two months to ‘repair’ the relationship and to convince them to continue supplying us at a flat price. Furthermore, I had to make additional concessions which we would not have made if our colleague would have stayed with our plan. Matthias Manegold, Head of Global Indirect Procurement, Liberty Global

3. Clarity on agreed terms

Make sure the final terms of a negotiation are clear for both parties. I had the surprise, for a new supply agreement (over 35M Euro), to discover that we were not aligned regarding the product specifications. Our yearly demand had been multiplied by 10 and obviously, during the negotiation, the supplier did not dare confess not having the capacity to deliver our needs. We needed to rediscuss and revaluate this challenge and find a way forward to solve the issue. It demonstrates the importance of always re-confirming the terms you reached.  Christophe Schmitt, Head of Strategic Supplies, Omya

4. Safety in small numbers

At times I have walked into a room and seen more than ten people around the table. In such a situation, it is very unlikely that any significant flexibility will be shown during the following hours. By nature, most people will not want to lose ground in public. As a general guide, I find the best agreements are made in smaller meetings with participants who have been briefed in advance. Unless related to celebrations, nobody likes surprises!Jon Hatfield, Director Global Supply Management, PPG

5. Stubborn suppliers

Sometimes even if you have evidence that you could get a better price for same quality the supplier will not move. This can happen especially in the Pharma world where changing supplier is time, money, and resource consuming. I also think this behaviour by the incumbent supplier is wrong. Ultimately pressure on prices will prevail and the new cheaper supplier will be a better fit. Romain Roulette, EMEA Procurement Director, Bausch Health

6. Changing protocol

Overcoming counter-productive pre-existing relationships of suppliers can derail negotiations. My corporation acquired a company that had strong links with the local supply base. The local suppliers were working with this company for decades and had developed ineffective habits that were hard to change. When we requested the existing supply base to apply standard requirements, we were confronted with resistance and opposition from these suppliers. A few negotiations went well, however we had to change all of the other suppliers. Francesco Lucchetta, Director Strategic Supply, Pentair

7. Lack of alternatives

It was a single source supply situation. Over ten years ago, I was renegotiating an IT outsourcing agreement that was expiring. Benchmarking data indicated that our prices were well above market. On the other side, the supplier knew that we had no other alternatives and they enjoyed a strong relationship with the CIO. In spite of our efforts, we only received a very minor price decrease. The next step was to start developing an alternative supplier to be in a stronger position at the next contract renewal. Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner, Conti Advanced Business Learning

These responses were collected by Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a consulting firm that specialises in negotiation & influencing. This article is part of a series

Stakeholders Are Your Customers. Ignore Them At Your Peril

If you fail to meet the expectations of key influencers, projects will be delayed, will only be partially workable or at worst, doomed.

Stakeholders can and will influence the outcome of your project, especially if they are likely to be directly affected by it. If we fail to meet the expectations of key influencers, projects will be delayed, will only be partially workable or at worst, doomed.  

Who are your stakeholders?

Stakeholders are any of those individuals that can impact your activities by:

  • removing obstacles and championing  your goals
  • by slowing down or blocking your activities  
  • influencing others about your project –positively or negatively

Many of your stakeholders may not initially be obvious.   They can be:

  • End-users of the product or service
  • Line managers, executives and support staff
  • Procurement team members and co-opted subject matter experts 
  • Suppliers and their subcontractors
  • Government agencies and the media
  • Customers and society at large

Why is stakeholder management so difficult?

Stakeholders have conflicting priorities and often are not working towards the same goal. Personal ambitions may trump the company vision.  You may be the messenger bearing bad news or saying no to their proposals. Seasoned procurement people use their persuasive skills to win support from stakeholders.  This can be the difference between success and failure.

Because stakeholders will change over time, we need a systematic approach to identify and prioritize those influencers.  A stakeholder map is a simple analysis tool we can use to identify which key people have to be won over.

A simple shareholder map

This map provides a guideline on how to manage stakeholders based on their interest and their influence:

Figure 1   The stakeholder analysis grid

The Greens

Stakeholders with a high level of influence in your specific project and who also have a high level of commitment and support must attract the most focus.   They are usually easily identified and are easy to engage. They usually include line managers and end-users.  Ensure you continue to maintain their support through good communication and monitoring their needs. These people can be used to influence others.

The Oranges

This is an important group to manage and may include senior management, e.g. CEO or GM. Keep them satisfied.   Increasing their interest or commitment to your project through regular updates can be very helpful.

The Browns

These customers are your supporters. Keep them informed, their enthusiasm may be infectious and they may have more influence in the future.  Less time is needed to maintain this group. 

The Purples

External stakeholders such as the media and government may fall into this group so it is not necessary to spend too much time there. But keep them in the loop and monitor them as they may move into another group!

Identify all key stakeholders and plot them in the grid in Figure 1. 

Steps to follow to ensure success of any initiative:

  • Concentrate your time on working with key stakeholders who can make or break the initiative. Make sure every stakeholder has an appropriate way to participate and offer input.
  • Understand and manage their expectations. Identify any potential adversaries early in the process and manage them directly by allocating key tasks to them. Persuade those people who may not be immediately supportive. 
  • Under-promise and over-deliver.  Think like a salesperson.
  • Keep everyone well-informed and build strong relationships with the people who support the project.  Recognise and reward positive behaviours to preserve the relationship and buy continued support. 

Dealing with difficult stakeholders

The first step is to clearly identify those stakeholders and work out what motivates them and what is causing their resistance. Ignoring difficult stakeholder behaviour is not recommended; take time to immediately identify the cause of their objections and the underlying issues. People want to feel understood and feel that their opinions matter.

Engage directly with the person directly without others present. This leads to more clear and calm conversations. Actively listen to what they have to say and don’t close communication channels because you don’t like what you hear.   Remain fair, objective, and professional, and remember to keep the project objectives within focus. Try to find common ground by asking open-ended questions.  

Why projects fail: communication is the key

Lack of frequent and accurate communication to and from stakeholders is probably one of the main reasons for the failure of projects.   Another is not listening to the needs and concerns of the key stakeholders, both internal and external. 

When to communicate with stakeholders

  • before the launch of a project to get buy-in. Early engagement is important.
  • at regular progress meetings held to keep everyone updated. Report back on progress (or lack of it) and milestones achieved.
  • before implementation to ensure alignment with the process and the proposed solution
  • at the end of a project to establish lessons learned

Stakeholder management is the process that we use to identify key stakeholders and win their support.  We use the analysis grid to prioritize them by influence and commitment. Understanding what motivates them is the first step to getting them on board.    

Space Trucking: The Challenges Of Managing A Supply Chain That Is Truly Out of This World

We investigate the perennial deadly hazards of operating on the world’s truly most remote supply route: the ‘road’ to the International Space Station.

 Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Are you responsible for sending your people into danger? In a new Procurious blog series, The World’s Deadliest Supply Chains, we investigate the most high-risk supply chains out there.

The fiery disintegration of a manned Russian Soyuz rocket above the steppe of Kazakhstan on October 11 highlights the perennial deadly hazards of operating on the world’s truly most remote supply route: the ‘road’ to the International Space Station orbiting between 330 and 435 kilometres above the earth.

In this case, the Soyuz occupants, US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin, got lucky after what NASA described diplomatically as the mission’s successful “abort downrange”.

Because of a problem later identified as a faulty sensor, the launch terminated two minutes after blast-off. The men, who were to be the first members of the 58th expedition to the station, escaped in their capsule and were rescued on the ground 32 hairy minutes later.

Other ISS missions haven’t been so fortunate: on February 1, 2003 the space shuttle Columbia imploded on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board.

The Soyuz setback highlights an awkward rostering problem for NASA: since the cessation of the space shuttle program in 2011, the US has relied on ‘buying’ seats on the Soyuz to swap over crews on its half of the ISS.

Who said Uber pioneered ride-sharing? The US recently swallowed its pride and confirmed the acquisition of three extra Soyuz seats in 2019, amid concern that its program to replace the space shuttles was proving too ambitious.

But with a three-person crew due to blast off in a Soyuz in early December, the latest mission to the station has some chance of getting back on track.

The most expensive structure in the world – and, indeed, beyond –  the ISS was built between 1998 and 2011 at a cost of $US150 billion. To date, 15 modules have been assembled (rather like a Lego set) with a further five to be added.

The maximum crew of six performs scientific experiments, eats, sleeps and exercises as the metal orbits the earth 15.5 times a day at a speed of 29,000 kilometres an hour.

Maintaining a semblance of normal life for the crew requires a large amount of provisions – an average of 2722 kilograms per mission. The transit of any goods – anything from toothpaste to heavy scientific equipment – needs to be planned painstakingly months in advance.

When it comes to supplying the ISS using unmanned craft, the procurement controllers have more flexibility because a mini United Nations of spacecraft regularly visit the station (all with different docking procedures).

Despite the perception that the ISS is exclusively a US-Russian concern, the program is actually a venture between five agencies: NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, The European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Thus, the station has been supplied by not only the shuttle and Russian craft such as the Progress and the Soyuz, but by unmanned milk runs from Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (also known as the Kounotori, or White Stork).

Whether the craft are manned or unmanned, the visits are eagerly anticipated by the space station’s cramped occupants. After all, a delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables makes for a welcome respite from the everyday diet of textureless, vacuum-packed mush.

(Sadly for the cosmonauts, vodka deliveries are off limits).

So far, the ISS has been visited by more than 150 craft – an average of slightly more than eight per year – including 50 crewed Soyuz, 70 Russian Progress one-way freight vessels and 37 space shuttles.

A key link in the ISS logistics chain is NASA’s Payload Operations Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Described as the heartbeat of the ISS research operations, the centre co-ordinates all scientific experiments carried out on the station as well as the “payload activities” of the international partners.

In space, no-one can call roadside assist. As a result, equipment requiring regular replacement – such as the antenna, batteries and pumps – are kept on external pallets called ‘express logistics carriers’ and can be put in place by robotic arms.

Despite the supply mission setbacks, on November 2 this year the ISS celebrated 18 years of continuous habitation, eclipsing the previous record of just under 10 years set by the crew of the Soviet-era Mir station.

But nothing lasts forever, with the future of the ISS under review. While NASA and Roscosmos have pledged to co-operate on a replacement facility, tetchy on-the-ground relations between the two nations means there’s a likelihood they will go their own way.

In the meantime, the US is hardly enamoured with its ‘can I hitch a ride with you, comrade?’ approach and is working on its own crewing and supply options so as to mitigate its reliance on the Russians.

Both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have separate contracts to develop space ‘taxis’, but their timetable for crewed test flights originally scheduled for August and this month are behind schedule.

Suffice to say, there’s mounting pressure from Capitol Hill on the rival contractors to complete the new era craft sooner rather than later.

After all, in the extraterrestrial trucking game, it always helps to have a Plan B.

If you’d like to read additional related content or get involved with thought provoking discussions check out the Supply Chain Pros group – a one stop shop for all your supply chain needs.

3 Mistakes That Will Destroy Trust Between Procurement And Suppliers

As you’ll  know from your personal life, the most loyal friendships are earned through  experiences, challenges, and good times. So why should be any different with your suppliers?

If you have a vendor who constantly demonstrates great performance and continues to deliver and deliver and deliver…reward them! Give them extra projects or new developments and more business. Don’t continue to pressure them and penalise them, because this relationship might erode over time. Perhaps it could still functional and transactions will happen, but the relationship will be affected as a result.

Here I have collected three typical mistakes that will destroy trust between a procurement organisation and its suppliers.

1. Empty Threats

“Be constructive in your arguments and honest in your feedback…”

This was one of the first lessons I learned from a mentor when I asked about contract negotiations. It’s simple but powerful and it genuinely creates trust.

If you are bluffing –a professional partner will recognise it. And you want to work with professionals, right?

Walk the talk. If you’re claiming that a supplier is offering a better price – be able to prove it.

Making empty threats is either the result of a lack of preparation  or a lack of any decent arguments full stop.

Remember that trust is the base for a good partnership. And fake promises can easily destroy trust.

2.  Continue negotiations after contracts are signed

I have to confess that I’ve done this many times in my procurement career so I understand how harmful it can be.

There is an unwritten rule for sales people that states you should stop selling after the client has agreed to a deal.

The very same  rule should be applied to procurement professionals. We should have the ambition to reach the best deal within our budget and time limits, we should consider risks and potential threats but all of this should happen before we agree the final contract. After the two parties agree prices, terms and conditions of contract, everyone should concentrate on execution.

Normally we set certain deadlines for the supplier selection process and close to these deadlines we can become more and more stressed, losing focus and failing to mention  important details or opportunities. As a result we often finalise the agreement not because we are sure that this is the best deal, but because we are short of time.  And then, after the documents are signed, we attempt to save costs further with the vendor.

Procurement professionals must act professionally in such situations. Simply opening up new negotiations with the vendor will destroy trust, sending the signal that the agreement means nothing to you and that you’ll happily switch to a better alternative whenever you get the chance. As a result, they will also de-prioritise you as a customer and not invest the time and efforts into developing your products.

If you see an opportunity to decrease prices after the contract is signed,  be open and transparent to your vendor. Explain your reasons set the arena for a new discussion and listen carefully. With any luck you can find a solution that suits you both.

3.  Focusing only on price reductions

I like to explore competition in Procurement! Preparing a good RFQ/RFP process and making suppliers fight for your business is great isn’t it?

Doing this process a number of times within the same product group will definitely lead you to a dead end. You’ll reach a threshold where quotation will not bring more savings.  It’s a frustrating moment when there is no more low hanging fruit, no more chances to cut the prices by reverse auction or bidding processes. So now what?

In most cases the extra revenue can be gained in more ways than simply cutting your suppliers’ margin or increasing purchase volumes.

Look into the business relationship, the supply stream and the infrastructure of the business and investigate where we can save costs and do things better, faster and smarter. More often than not, if we really find this momentum and use it to reduce costs, we will get bigger volumes into this business. New projects will come and more development will happen if the relationship is strong and there is trust. This will also result in more revenue coming to both sides – it’s a win-win.

How to Keep the Supplier Love Alive

We take a look at some of the ways procurement professionals should manage, and negotiate with, their long-term suppliers when things get tricky…

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Building and, most importantly, maintaining good supplier relationships takes hard work, commitment and focus. And the longer they last, the more they require this careful nurturing to keep the love alive and the flame burning.

But what happens when one half of the partnership doesn’t hold up their end of the deal; taking advantage of a long-term contract or a presumed arrangement which has started to have a negative impact on your organisation?

What do you do when a change of circumstance means you want to re-negotiate your terms?

How do you get yourself out of an undesirable, self-destructive partnership when to change things up could be costly and difficult to implement?

We joined a recent Negotiation Roundtable organized by CABL (Conti Advanced Business Learning), a firm that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing, on the topic of long-term negotiations. We wanted to hear advice from a number of procurement and sales leaders on how to manage those long term supplier relationships.

Giuseppe Conti, the founder of CABL, introduced the subject by highlighting that in long-term relationships there is a risk that one of the two parties take advantage of the situation. He then led the group to discuss a number of different ways for procurement professionals to manage, and negotiate with, suppliers when things get tricky.

Look below the iceberg

 For procurement professionals, this is a tale as old as time – how do you manage a supplier who increases prices without warning, when you were under the impression that you had a long-term agreement. Do you cut and run?

“That depends entirely” argues Laurence Pérot, Global Supply Chain Procurement Head at Logitech, “on the nature and origin of your relationship with that supplier.

“You need to consider how you selected them in the first place. Was there a good cultural fit, what drew your organisation to them? Cost reduction is just the tip of the iceberg.”.

According to Xinjian Carlier Fu, Sourcing Leader at Honeywell, “If you can satisfy all the elements beneath the surface (i.e. risk reduction, security, protecting margins and personal requirements) you will have a much more effective negotiation.”

Believe that you have the power

 It’s easy to be intimidated by suppliers who seem to be calling all the shots in your relationship. Xinjian Carlier Fu believes it’s important to have confidence in your own procurement power. “Don’t be afraid of [your supplier] relationship. They might seem dominating and intimidating but I like to use the analogy of David and Goliath.

“Procurement professionals should think of themselves as David. Don’t underestimate your influence or give up hope for your organisation.  You do have negotiation power. Don’t give up hope.”

“Unfortunately not every supplier is willing to work with you in a partnership. Sometimes not all parties are considered equal,” explains Guillaume Leopold, Former CPO at Coty.

Look for a win-win

Ifti Ahmed, Managing Partner at Titanium Partners, described that tricky situation of inheriting an existing supplier when starting a new procurement job. “This particular supplier wasn’t my first choice but it became my job to manage the negotiations and the budget. I did look for alternatives, of which none were suitable and so I did feel like I was in a tough position from a negotiations perspective. ”

“But we prepared well for these negotiations, ensured we had a greater idea of what they valued; what was annoying for them and what they wanted from the partnership, so we were able to discuss points for improvement on both sides and the new contract ended up as a win-win”

Giuseppe Conti also highlighted the importance of using partnership tools to effectively manage the supplier. This includes a Service Level Agreement with KPIs for both parties, performance reviews, alignment of senior management teams, bonus system, audits, 360-degree feedback. 

Make your position clear

It’s very difficult to build trust in your supplier relationships when staff turnover is high. Indeed, as Alessandra Silvano, Global Category Director CAPEX & MRO at Carlsberg, pointed out “many suppliers try to take advantage of frequent rotations in the workforce. But they need to know that you are aligned. Pricing should be treated in the same standardised way, not matter who you are working with.”

Work at it like a marriage

Regina Roos, VP & Sales Segment Leader Mineral and Mining at Schneider Electric, recommends you approach your supplier relationships like a marriage. “It’s not a one off event. There are levels of commitment and you have to keep working at it. If you’re not prepared and you don’t know what you’re getting into with a supplier it’s your fault. You need to make a commitment, and stick to it.”

Paul André, Director Reduced Risk Commercial Supply at JTI, agrees, arguing that “you need to be very clear on what you’re entering into – and that you don’t have a different expectation of the relationship you are building.”

Get to the crux of the problem

What should procurement professionals do when faced with a seemingly irrational supplier who simply won’t re-negotiate terms or agreements? Xinjian Carlier Fu suggests that you “try to identify the motivations underlying these actions or attitudes. Think about the possible constraints they might be facing. Then test your theories by asking questions – ‘Are you facing pressure to cut costs?’” When you understand what’s driving the supplier’s behaviour, you’ll find it easier to come to an agreement.

Work with suppliers you like

The value of supplier likeability is not to be underestimated according to Francesco Lucchetta, Director EMEAI Supply at Pentair. “Taking company culture into account is so important when it comes to selecting suppliers, particularly if you’re forming a long-term agreement. People are very different and to work with people you like is a really good thing. When the culture is unfriendly it’s hard to build trust in the relationship.”

For more advice on managing your supplier negotiations, check out the first blog in this two-part series – 6 Ways To Prevent A Negotiation Blow Up.