Tag Archives: suppliers

Why Contracts And Cashmere Are The Future, Says Commercial Relationship Expert

Look at your latest supplier contract. Does it specifically mention Zoom catch-ups? If not, why not? Sally Guyer from World Commerce & Contracting talks with Procurious about getting the most from suppliers and technology.

Have a look at your latest supplier contract. Does it specifically mention communication like regular Zoom catch-ups or phone calls? If not, you’re missing a trick.

Procurious Founder Tania Seary recently spoke with Sally Guyer, Global CEO of World Commerce & Contracting on getting the most out of supplier relationships and predictions about the future of procurement. 

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It’s been a wild year, but disruption isn’t unique to 2020. 

“I think it’s really interesting because there have been numerous supply chain upheavals inflicted by disaster in the last decade,” Sally says.

“You’ve got things like the volcanic eruption in Iceland, Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Thailand floods, numerous hurricanes, not to mention the global financial crisis which also needs to sit on that list; yet we don’t seem to have learned very much,” Sally explains. 

“Most companies still found themselves totally unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

After this crisis is over, companies will fall into two categories: those that don’t do anything and hope that a disruption like this never happens again, and those that map their supply networks.

Supply networks

You should know how your suppliers (and your suppliers’ suppliers) fit together, which is why mapping out your network is so useful.

Companies who already made the effort to document their network acted quickly when the pandemic spread. Other companies were floundering and reactive. 

“We know from our research that many organisations typically don’t see beyond the first tier of suppliers, or possibly tier two,” Sally says.

“If we ever doubted the importance of visibility, the pandemic has provided a dramatic example of why it’s absolutely essential to have insight into sources of supply.”

Sally is seeing leading organisations require suppliers to participate in supply chain mapping efforts as part of their contract.

And it serves an important part of rebuilding.

“[We’re] moving away from the linear and much more to a recognition that supply networks’ supply ecosystems are a huge number of organisations all interacting with one another where there needs to be fluidity amongst them all. 

“And that’s essential to accelerate and support recovery.”

Sustainable cashmere

Companies are also investing more heavily in technology to help them gain end-to-end visibility.

Blockchain technology is particularly noteworthy.

Sally gives the example of tracing Mongolian cashmere production. The country is famous for its luxurious fibres – producing nearly a fifth of the world’s raw cashmere

And even though cashmere is considered natural and sustainable, soaring consumer demand is fueling overgrazing and damaging the land. 

So Toronto-based Convergence.tech and the UN teamed up to create an app for Mongolian farmers, backed by blockchain technology. 

Now the UN is able to interact with over 70 different herders and eight cooperatives through a simple app.

Farmers use the Android app to register and tag their cashmere. Then their location is pinned on a map to allow for end-to-end tracking. The UN works with the farmers and other producers along the supply chain to improve sustainability.

“Farmers are willing to have their goods marked in return for training on better practises, and then open markets pay fair prices for truly sustainable and high-quality cashmere,” Sally explains.

“Everybody benefits. Everybody wins.”

Better contracts, better relationships

Another way technology is transforming the supplier/client relationship is through communication.

Sally advises all clients to include communication obligations in supplier contracts.  

“It comes down to simple things like if we want to do video conferencing does your organisation support Zoom or not, because if I do and you don’t then [that’s an issue],” Sally says.

It’s not rocket science. All good relationships hinge on good communication, says Sally.

“Fundamentally, partnerships are founded on robust and clear communication, and you know I always talk about professional relationships in the same context as I talk about personal relationships,” Sally says.

“If you don’t have clear communication with your friends, with your partner, with whomever is around you, then you are not going to have a very successful relationship.”

While you can’t provide for every eventuality in your contracts, you need a robust framework to support the relationship which means communication needs to be at the top of the agenda.

Predicting the future

The year is 2030. What are the hot topics in procurement? Here are Sally’s predictions:

1) Sustainability

“We’re still a long way from creating our sustainable planet and it has to be something that we all continue to champion,” Sally says.

“We need to be promoting best practises to reach the next level where we’re actually starting to give back. Not just to seek neutrality but actually give back.”

2) Social inclusion

“I can’t imagine that social inclusion wouldn’t be important in 2030,” Sally says. “Perhaps a scorecard of corporate performance on social inclusion and social value.”

3) Technology

“Numbers suggest we’re only using 30% of the data that we are producing,” Sally says. 

“And if organisations are genuinely on a journey of continuous improvement then they need to be using data and the likes of artificial intelligence natural language processing if they’re going to continue to advance.”

4) Integration

“We need to organise for integration,” Sally adds. “We need to break down the internal barriers that exist.

“We all operate in silos. We’ve got organisations who have a buy side and sell side and they have no idea what’s going on on either side of the organisation. So those companies are starting to look at how they create an integrated trading relationships function.”

Sally Guyer can be seen in our exclusive series The Future of Supply Chain Now.

Managing A New Tech Project? Steal This Company’s Playbook

Make your new tech project a success with these tried and tested tips.


If you’ve managed a new technology project before, then you know the tech is the easy part. 

People are the challenge (and I mean that in the nicest way possible!)

Luckily, people and projects follow predictable patterns – no matter the size of your company. 

So here’s the playbook you need to make your new project successful. It’s the same one I’ve used to help dozens of companies like Credit Suisse and Honeywell launch systems on time and on budget.

And it’s yours to steal.

Step 1: Get the right people in the room

The most successful organisations are those that get the right people in the room from day one and keep them engaged the whole time.  

Who are the right people? It’s likely a mix of people across your organisation. Obvious inclusions are senior level decision makers. You also need to get the best technical brains in the room who understand the legacy system better than anyone else.

You need people who really understand your business – warts and all. Why are things done in the way that they are? What is the history? What are the processes? Are they defined in flowcharts and documents?  

You might think your own processes are well-documented, but they need to be really specific for the design phase (i.e. do emails/reminders have to be sent at a particular stage and what happens after X number of days; who do we escalate to?)

Next, you need to spend significant time making sure everyone understands and agrees the objectives of the new system. You need the people who hold the purse strings to agree, so you can get resources in place.

And prepare for scepticism – especially from people who have been around a while. These long-time employees have seen it all, and they might carry hard feelings from previous projects that didn’t live up to the promises.

So don’t be quick to dismiss those who seem negative; sometimes they are the key to understanding why something was done in the past, and to identifying where complexity can be removed. 

You’ll find if you address stakeholder concerns early on and make sure everyone feels heard and understood, you can get them on board and keep them there. And who knows? They could become your biggest ambassadors for the project. 

Plan for pushback

No matter how great your new system is – or how much time and money it will save the company – you should expect pushback. Most humans hate change. 

So approach their concerns with sympathy; after all, it can be hard to learn a new system.

And don’t forget about potential pushback from your suppliers. I often have customers who struggled previously with getting suppliers on legacy procurement systems.

Avoid that chaos by bringing your key suppliers in early.

For example, Maxim Healthcare struggled for seven long years to get suppliers on their legacy system. The suppliers pushed back en masse against the terms they had to accept, and possible fees faced by the vendor’s supplier network approach. 

So when they asked us to help them launch a new system, we put suppliers at the centre. Their suppliers were thrilled with the friendlier terms and approach. The result? Maxim Healthcare launched a shiny new P2P system in eight weeks with more suppliers than they acquired in the previous seven years. 

Define requirements and objectives

Before you go shopping, do the important work of laying down requirements and objectives.

Think of it like painting a room. The actual painting goes quickly; it’s all the prep work that takes the time.

Now is the opportunity to review your old processes and see if they’re still serving your company.

Get into the detail at the design phase and understand that documenting your processes will help to work out what you are doing now and where you can find efficiencies, cost savings, and better user adoption.

Everyone in your stakeholder group should agree on what your company needs in a new system. That will save you from scope creep (and many headaches) later on – when changes will be infinitely more expensive.

Once you know what you’re looking for, scrutinise different technology providers. Make sure you understand what is possible now with current technology.

At this stage, your provider should act as a friendly interrogator, questioning any areas they find in your processes that could be simplified. However, the act of removing that complexity is up to you. Will you make the most of the new technology you are paying good money for?

Look at the whole puzzle

A system may seem perfect in isolation, but you need to understand how it fits with the rest of your company set-up.

After all, you’re looking for a seamless flow of information, a consistent user experience, and a unified data model that supports 360 degree visibility of suppliers and activity.

None of that is possible if your company systems aren’t compatible. 

Also understand how the new tech system you choose can grow and change as your company changes. 

Some systems are too rigid to support those changes, meaning you could have a redundant system on your hands after only a few months.

And you should also consider how other existing company systems could change in the future. Are any of them due for an upgrade soon? Stay close to your CIO so your company makes the most of tech investments.

Allow for flexibility

Successful projects allow for flexibility in timing. Things will change and bumps will come up over the course of your project – no matter how precise your planning.

That’s why we use a hybrid agile/ waterfall method on our own projects (and encourage customers to use the same).

What does that mean? The waterfall approach is to build the system and then show it. Agile means to build as you go. 

Instead of choosing one over the other, we use both methods. That brings a nice balance of predictability with a level of flexibility to address unforeseen or evolving requirements.

At the design phase we try to lock down 80% of requirements and in this way we still maintain 20% for a level of flexibility. Though as mentioned earlier, it’s wise to get as specific as possible.

You might be surprised how quickly a project can come together this way. Take the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for example. They needed the ability to upload bid submittals electronically, and we helped them launch the feature in just one week. 

Nailing down exactly what you need will make the actual build phase go quicker. And building in contingency time means you won’t get caught off guard when you reach a hiccup. 

Send in the A-team

You need to take people off their day-to-day work and give them the time to focus on this project.  

Have dedicated project team members who solely work on launching the new system. They should be able to answer business and technical questions, and to report back on user issues and gripes. 

This is especially important during the early stages of the project, but no less important throughout the entire process.

The best way to mitigate issues is to plan for them by making sure that you have enough and the right resources.

Once the procurement system is rolled out, it’s key to keep the same team engaged so a knowledge exchange to the support team can take place. They should stay put for at least a few weeks after launch to ensure a smooth transition.

Finish strong

Successful project teams are always communicating. 

At the start of any new project, I set up monthly steering meetings at the executive level. There are weekly project status meetings with project leaders, Ivalua, partners and clients to share what has been done, the challenges and what’s planned for the next week. 

We put any roadblocks or risks on the table and take a realistic health check on the overall project status.

I also schedule “Work in Progress” reviews to keep everything on track and spot issues a long way off. 

These checkpoints allow us to confirm we are headed in the right direction, and we can take some feedback to adjust it when needed.

You can do this

To summarise, when you managing a new tech project of any size, there are the three keys to success:

1) Know what your goals are, and make sure these are communicated to your internal teams and to the companies you are working with. 

2) Have the right people in the room. 

3) Complete a robust, open and transparent design phase to get what you want and guarantee that your organisation gets what it needs.

Finally, make sure you report your after-launch success back to senior management. Ivalua did some research earlier this year that showed 67% of procurement professionals believe that their colleagues consider them to be a key business partner contributing significant strategic value.

They already know you are valuable. Your project is another opportunity to prove it.

Your Supplier Made The News … For The Wrong Reasons. What Does This Mean For You?

What should you do if your supplier ends up in the news? Here’s what effect it could have on you and how you should mitigate the damage.


Let’s face it, 2020 has been the year that changed everything. Anytime you even go near a media website, you’re hit in the face with the latest pandemic disasters. 

Yet the domination of the news with COVID crisis has meant that there’s little room for much else, which, strangely, may have been a blessing in disguise for some of our organisation’s PR departments – and our own supply chain obligations. From whispers that much of the world’s current PPE is currently the product of modern day slavery to suppliers who have been caught out using substandard (and even contaminated) ingredients in food, there’s mounting evidence that while we’ve all been distracted this year, supplier standards may have been slipping. And while that may not have spelled disaster for us just yet, what do we do when the news catches up with them? 

It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for you. Here’s why … and what you should do about it. 

If your supplier makes the news, will your customers blame you? 

If you think that your customers are savvy enough to distance you from the reputation of your suppliers, think again. Ever since the Nike sweatshop scandal rocked organisations worldwide, it’s been clear that if your suppliers take a fall, you will too – and it can be highly damaging, if not deadly, to your reputation going forward. Businesses are just as – if not more – responsible for their suppliers than ever before. 

Concerningly, recent research has also found that even when a supplier mishap has, in essence, nothing to do with your product quality, consumers will still start to believe that your product is inferior. This means that if you were to have something like a COVID outbreak in your factory and it was widely publicized, even if you were able to maintain production, your reputation would still be tainted in your consumer’s eyes. Unfortunately, the reputational damage occurs no matter what the issue is: even if, for example, your supplier was caught polluting or even embezzling, your reputation would be the one to take the hit. 

If this sounds terrifying, it’s because it is. Even worse, conditions are currently ripe for it to happen. With our supply chains becoming more and more global and complex, it’s becoming harder and harder to track the activities of our suppliers, let alone our second and third tier ones. And with the rise of social media, the world is becoming more and more savvy – and any issues are becoming more likely to be exposed. Take, for example, Change.org’s famous campaign against Hersheys, which exposed, through social media, the continued use of child labour in its cocoa production in Africa, and forced the company to quickly change track. 

The conclusion? If your supplier has something to hide and the media finds out first, you need to be prepared to weather the reputational and financial hit. 

If it’s just slightly bad news, does it matter so much? 

As talented and thorough procurement and supply chain professionals, most of us already have an oversight of the worst risks and issues within our supply chain – and thankfully, we’ve mitigated them. So if something small slips through the cracks, will it really matter? 

Unfortunately, yes. Firstly, humans have a predilection towards bad news. Decades of psychological research have shown that we’re all naturally drawn towards bad news, so much so that even if nine out of the ten news stories we read are positive, we’ll always remember – and act on – the negative one. What this means is that we, as supply chain professionals, need to be extra cautious about what mishaps might slip through the cracks. 

Secondly, consumers don’t rationalise the ‘degree’ of bad news. In what psychologists call the ‘spillover effect,’ consumers were found to equally condemn companies for supply chain failures, even if the news wasn’t, technically, that bad. On every occasion, bad news in the supply chain meant that consumers were less willing to buy from the organisation for an extended period of time. 

How do you mitigate the damage? 

By now, you’re probably frantically checking and rechecking all of your suppliers, terrified that something may have gone wrong. And while the response is justified, and we should always aim to have as much insight as possible into our suppliers, know this: you can mitigate the damage done if your suppliers do end up in the news for the wrong reasons. 

And the best way to do this is to simply try to help find a solution, and communicate this to all involved. 

In positive news, research into the spillover effect has found that while damage can be done quickly, it can be undone at just the same speed. Organisations that act quickly to rectify issues, for example, those who instantly clean up environmental spills or put an end to labour issues, can rescue their reputation, if they take responsibility and put mechanisms in place to do better. And while consumer’s buying behaviour may not revert instantly, if you are able to win back the trust of your customers, the damage need not be long term.  

Managing risk and reputation 

Given the complexity of supply chains these days, maintaining accountability of your suppliers has long been an issue, especially when it comes to tier two or three suppliers. Yet just because this task is challenging, it doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Thankfully, if reputational damage does occur, it is possible to reverse it. But do we want to take the risk of finding out? 

Has your supplier ever ended up in the news? What did you do about it? Let us know below.

How To Debrief Suppliers… And Why You Need To

Debriefing after a procurement process is an important chance for reflection and giving feedback to bidders. Follow these 5 tips to ensure you debrief efficiently.


Debriefing respondents after a procurement process can seem a thankless task – and provokes an audible sigh. 

This is not because there is no love for the market, it’s because you’ve just come out of a lengthy, action-packed process. A queue of the next million projects to do is staring right at you. 

Why should you debrief respondents? 

Debriefs are an easy way to add value to future projects. They develop market capability and the capacity of the market to understand you as a buyer. They offer you a chance for self-reflection and learning.

Read on for 5 tips on how to nail debriefs

1. Provide feedback in the outcome letter

The place to start in debriefing respondents is with a general statement of strengths and weakness in the outcome letter you send after the process. 

This is often enough for respondents to understand where they lost out. It can save you the time of having to engage with every company who participated in the process. Sometimes some simple, short feedback is all that is needed.

For example:

Thank you for submitting your response for [insert project name] opportunity. Your submission has been assessed by an evaluation panel and we are writing to inform you that you have not been successful on this occasion. The panel noted team composition and relevant experience as particular strengths in your response. However, the response lacked evidence in regards to methodology and project timelines. This is critical for us to assess how the outcomes will be achieved. 

2. Run a solid process

Following a solid process with structured evaluation and accompanying notes forms the basis of a good debrief. There is little point running around after the process trying to gather information. Good luck trying to get stakeholders engaged to have a conversation about something that is months old! 

Tip: when individual evaluators are marking the responses, make sure they are instructed to write statements of strengths and weakness as they go. Also, follow this up in a moderation meeting with the evaluation panel and ask them to summarise one positive and one weakness before moving on to discuss the next supplier. 

This will be captured in the minutes. Further down the track any member of your team can access the file and select enough information to create a debrief.

3. Don’t wing it

Have a template and complete it before speaking to a respondent. Two templates are helpful to fill out. 

One is a template that guides the conversation with the respondent and is for internal eyes only. The other is a stripped-down version of the same template that can be released to the respondent after the conversation. 

So, what should be in it?

  • An outline of the process undertaken
  • How many responses you received from the market and how many passed the first stage of compliance
  • A reminder that the purpose of the debrief is to provide feedback on their response, not an opportunity to relitigate the process that has been undertaken. Feedback provided is based on the respondent’s performance against other responses and not necessarily a direct criticism of them – rather, it’s a statement of how they performed against others 
  • Where they ranked and what the scores were (removing the names of any other suppliers)
  • (Optional) You can include a range of the pricing responses but I tend to just provide the ranking
  • How they performed against each evaluation criterion
  • The strength and weakness statements from the evaluation panel
  • Ask the respondent for feedback on the process and how your company performed
  • Remind them of how they can keep an eye out for future opportunities to work with your company

4. Involve the right people

Make sure you choose who to take into the debrief wisely. 

For example, the subject matter expert may not have the best social skills. Choose someone who has the right expertise and the right level of authority. 

Most respondents are happy to have feedback. It is very rare that I have had aggressive or angry suppliers. The mitigation strategy to combat this is to be prepared and restate that this is not a chance to relitigate the process. 

Save time and conduct debriefs over the phone.

5. Don’t forget the winner!

Debrief the successful respondent to ensure they understand what it was about their bid that made them stand out from the crowd. 

It helps to build the relationship before the contract is inked.

Recently I was involved in a project in which the financial breakdown with the response was so detailed that it helped to add weight to their response. It helped to evidence that they could back up their claims.

When delivering this news during contract negotiations, it was surprising to the successful company. They said it was extremely valuable for them to understand what we value and the reasons why. They stated it would help their future bids as it improves understanding of the buyer’s viewpoint.

So keep these 5 tips in mind to ensure you deliver swift and effective debriefs to suppliers.

Critical Factors When Selecting Your Suppliers

Procurement exists in a dynamic, fast-paced, constantly changing environment. So surely the reasons we use to select our suppliers and supply partners would change over time too? Wouldn’t they?

It’s been over three years since the Procurious network was canvassed on what critical factors they look for in their suppliers. The world has moved on a-pace in the intervening period and it’s interesting to take an inward look to see if procurement has developed at the same pace, particularly in its supplier selection processes.

Gone are the days of the cheapest price (or at least they should be!). Gone, and consigned to a very dark part of history, are the days where supply decisions were made over lunch or in private meetings, and related more to who you knew than what you knew, which golf course or members’ club you were part of. Or even (sharp intake of breath) what you might be offering the buyers in return.

Even the list below, the key factors highlighted last time out, may have been superseded. So what are the new criteria? Or, if they are still the same, why is this the case?

Cost and Quality vs. Social Value and #MeToo?

If we take a look back at the responses from the network in 2015, we find ourselves looking at a list with a number of the usual suspects on it:

  • Cultural Fit – including values
  • Cost – covering price, Total Cost of Opportunity/Ownership
  • Value – value for money and value generation opportunities
  • Experience in the market and current references
  • Flexibility
  • Response to change – in orders and products
  • Quality – covering products and service quality and quality history

In addition to this, some that didn’t make the top 7 as it was included trust and professionalism, strategic process alignment and technical ability. There’s nothing that looks out of place on the list. In fact, they’re all eminently sensible and fair criteria to be considering.

The problem is it that it reflects a very traditional view of procurement.

Given the changing environment that procurement operates in, wouldn’t we expect to see these criteria changing too? In the past couple of years, geo-political instability has dominated the landscape and shows no sign of disappearing soon with Brexit and a potential trade war between USA and the rest of the world just two examples.

But what about the other factors we need to be considering? Social value has jumped to the top of many organisations’ lists, increasing work with SMEs and Social Enterprises. And let’s not forget an increased focus on harassment, discrimination and equal opportunities following #MeToo and campaigns like Procurious’ own ‘Bravo’.

What Does the Network Say?

When asked their opinions on what the critical factors were, the Procurious network highlighted the following:

  • Previous Safety Performance
  • Service Delivery
  • Efficiencies
  • Cultural Fit
  • Price/Cost
  • Flexibility
  • Ethics
  • Quality and Consistency
  • Supply Chain
  • Financial Stability
  • Environmental Policies
  • Communication

I’ve highlighted in bold the criteria that appear in the previous list that also appear in the new one. As you might expect, they are the common criteria that procurement are known for, and may be expected to deliver as standard.

It doesn’t appear that other factors in line with Sustainability, Social Value and Equal Opportunities (to name but a few) are getting much of a look in. However, we’d need a much bigger sample to be sure. And that’s where the wider knowledge base comes in.

Procurement’s Response

Having a trawl through the latest articles on supplier selection and key criteria two things struck me. One, there were very few articles, blogs, thought leadership posts or even research papers from the past couple of years. The most recent one I found was from early 2017 and even using a broad range of search terms, it was difficult to find anything relevant.

The second, and perhaps most surprising/concerning, thing was how few mentioned any different criteria for suppliers. Only one article I could find mentioned Social Responsibility or Environmental Performance/Sustainability. The remainder still focused on the criteria commonly found in a Commercial or Technical/Quality evaluation. The most common criteria still were:

  • Years in business and financial stability
  • Price/Cost
  • Quality and Delivery
  • Reliability
  • Communication
  • Cultural Match

What does this say about procurement? Is the profession still falling back on the old favourites when it comes to supplier selection? Or could it be that traditional “thought leadership” is no longer leading the way, and organisations are working differently without shouting it from the rooftops?

For me, it’s a combination of all of the above. There’s no denying that it’s hard to separate procurement from cost and quality (after all, it’s what we’re there to do). And why wouldn’t professionals use criteria that are both reliable and easy to measure, particularly when time and resources are tight?

Getting our Message Across

Speaking from experience, however, there are areas in which overall value is much more prevalent. In the Scottish public sector, organisations are mandating Community Benefits for contracts above a certain value. These can cover everything from creating apprenticeships to financially supporting community projects.

In addition, Local Authorities have started to mandate evaluation of ‘Fair Work Practices’ in all procurement exercises. Again, this can cover a multitude of elements, such as paying the living wage, no zero-hour contracts, equal opportunities and good training and development. Suppliers are being forced to consider these criteria to the benefit of their employees and the wider society.

There is good work going on in procurement, but maybe we aren’t making the most of communicating our message to the wider market. And if communication is one of the key factors in supplier selection and subsequent relationship management, it’s high time the profession started telling suppliers what is important to us and seeing what they have to offer.

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.

Four tips for working with SMBs from the experts

Procurious caught up with Ed Edwards, Audience Outreach Manager at THOMASNET.com, to discuss his organisation’s recommendations on connecting with small and medium-sized businesses.

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THOMASNET.com knows that it’s tough to connect with SMBs. The product sourcing and supplier discovery platform has been in the business of connecting buyers and suppliers for no less than 118 years. Recently, though, their analysts have noticed a worrying trend. “We run sourcing events through the platform”, says Edwards. “We discovered that large Fortune 500 companies were only getting a 12% response rate when they issued a sourcing event to 100 suppliers. Further investigation revealed that SMBs are increasingly unwilling to engage, and buyers need to make more effort in this respect.”

Why SMBs are important to you

Ignoring SMBs means turning your back on half of the potential supply base – in the US, 49% of manufacturers have between 5-99 employees. According to Edwards, the trend towards supplier consolidation is a false economy. “More supplier choices means less dependency, and therefore less risk”, he says.

It makes sense to source regionally from SMBs. THOMASNET.com’s research shows that 41% of organisations always prefer a local source, while 57% generally prefer a regional source. The further away your source becomes, the more risk and cost are introduced into the supply chain. Edwards explains that when things go wrong, you need to be able to respond quickly and creatively. “Local and regional SMBs can do things better with less resources at a lower cost”, he says. “They’ve got the advantage of being nimble and innovative.”

Working with SMBs is also one of the best ways to reduce costs, as there’s a strong correlation between the size of a company and the average payroll. A US manufacturer with 5–9 employees, for example, has an average payroll of $36,313 per employee, while a manufacturer with 500+ employees pays an average of $61,150. “If you only work with large suppliers, you’re going to be paying for their higher overheads”, says Edwards. “More bureaucracy equals more cost and less innovation – and more people equals more bureaucracy.”

Understand where SMBs are coming from

Small and medium-sized businesses often have an owner-proprietor and operate with limited resources. They generally need to be cautious in investing time and energy in pursuing new business, while running their existing operation. Common concerns held by SMBs around engaging with large buyers are:

  1. Can I fulfil the order?
  2. Am I wasting time bidding on an opportunity with very little chance of winning?
  3. What happens to my other business if I become beholden to a large company?
  4. What if the new opportunity becomes 50% of my business and it dries up?

Four recommendations for improving your relationships with SMBs

THOMASNET.com has worked with suppliers and buyers to create a list of best-practice recommendations for working with SMBs:

  1. Be transparent throughout the process to convey that winning your business is possible.
  • Outline your process upfront
  • Provide a timeline with milestones
  • Be specific regarding vendor selection criteria
  • Divulge who the decision makers are (if not by name, by role)
  • Convey number of suppliers under consideration
  • Provide case studies of similar relationships you have built with SMBs
  • Divulge why you are looking for a new supplier
  • Be specific regarding quantities.
  1. Simplify your process to increase the likelihood that more SMBs participate.
  • Only ask for information that is critical to the specific supplier qualification process
  • Break lengthy supplier questionnaires into smaller chunks.
  1. Humanise your process to build trust and reduce downstream confusion.
  • Leverage phone communication early in process
  • Provide specific Procurement and Engineering contacts
  • Provide feedback
    • Communicate timeline and process changes
    • Let suppliers know if they have been eliminated from consideration along the way
    • Let them know why they were eliminated.
  1. Consider shortening payment terms and offering financing to minimise your risk and ensure your suppliers have sufficient working capital.
  • Create a special program with reasonable payment terms for SMBs
  • Consider adopting a Supply Chain Finance Solution (reverse factoring).

“We’ve become very efficient at communicating in the 21st century”, says Edwards. “But at the end of the day, decisions are made when people connect with each other. That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of humanising the procurement process if you want to connect with SMBs.”

ED EDWARDSEd Edwards enjoys educating procurement and engineering professionals on how to use THOMASNET.com’s Supplier Discovery and Product Sourcing platform to streamline and improve their work. As part of this mission, he provides customized training to organizations’ engineering and sourcing teams at their offices and online. Ed and his colleagues work together to listen to the challenges facing buyers, and help them address those issues as well as new opportunities.

THOMASNET.com exists specifically to help you find, evaluate, compare and contact suppliers for what you need, where and when you need it. Access 700,000+ North American suppliers in 67,000+ categories – create your free user account today.

*Update: Check out THOMASNET.com’s new eBook The ABC’s Of Making The Shortlist, written to help you shore up any shortcomings that may prevent you from making buyers’ shortlists and put you in position to win more business.