Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
The quality of your purchasing shows in your own product
A lot of the rules between clients and suppliers have turned upside down this year. Part one of that story here.
As a buyer, that puts more pressure on you to be a better client. Rather than the traditional master/servant approach, particularly the classic B2B method:
- Procurement department invites 8 suppliers to tender, a process that will consume more in total head-hours than the eventual profit delivered to the winner
- They ask for 75 different policy documents on issues you know they don’t really give a fuck about, as if your modest-sized business should really have a dedicated policy department
- Client says “price is not the determining factor, it’s all about the best service.”
- Procurement department delays decision nine months, then appoints the lowest-price bottom-feeder
It’s based on the belief that there’s an infinite number of competent suppliers out there, so you can make them fight it out to the death in your Procurement Coliseum. Because they’re desperate for your business.
That is very much not the case in 2022 as skills and supply shortages bite hard.
In our industry, there are buyers getting in touch a week out from large projects:
“Uh … the people we booked two months ago just told us they can’t do it now, any chance you could do it?”
1. Talk openly
Talk to your suppliers about your business goals and problems. Bigger picture stuff, not just the specifics of their product. No matter how humble the product, good suppliers can adjust the way they provide it to make things better for you. They can help you solve those problems.
Plus you get to know them better as people, which makes them want to help you out in the crisis when you really need them. Like insurance and lawyers, supplier favours are something you can coast along without for years. But when that moment comes, you will need them bad, and you’ll be glad you put in the groundwork.
2. Don’t block access
Procurement departments like to block all contact when suppliers attempt to understand your problems better. They pretend this approach creates a fair, level playing field.
If you’re the buyer who has to live with their choice for years, you’re quarantining yourself from the smarter, more energetic suppliers who can actually help you. Instead, you’ll get a compliant box-ticking specialist, who will never have an idea or initiative outside those boxes.
3. Beware the fruitless quote cycle
It’s not just procurement, it’s any business that routinely asks heaps of suppliers to quote. When you’re a supplier, you know when you’re the one that gets to quote each time just to make up the numbers and keep the preferred supplier honest. It’s OK a few times, that’s how free markets work.
But in fields like ours where you have to do a fair bit of project planning just to work out a quote, it’s a massive waste of scarce staff hours. If you’re a supplier up to the fourth or fifth fruitless quote for that buyer, seriously consider saying no. Because nothing is going to change.
We’ve started doing it, it’s efficient and leads to more open conversations on both sides. Sometimes it can reframe the discussion and move a supplier right up the pecking order.
4. Be organised
Suppliers really appreciate clients who have their shit sorted out. So they know the job isn’t going to be a whirlpool of chaos and scope creep.
You can tell clients that are going to be good to work with by their brief. It will have clear, measurable, detailed requests. Rather than subjective blather like “optimal results” or “demonstrable quality”.
It shows they’ve done this before, and take it seriously. Rather than delegating the purchase process to a junior, who will be over-ruled by five different superiors as the work rolls out.
Organised clients are gold. Be one of them. When unforeseen issues strike, suppliers will go willingly into battle alongside you, because they know it’s not something you brought on yourself.
5. Pay them on time
Do I really have to write this? Sadly, yes. It’s remarkable how many businesses treat suppliers as a rolling source of medium-term loans, to be repaid after months of pursuit. Do you think those suppliers don’t know each other and talk?
Even within the parameters of normal payment terms, there’s not much of a difference for you between paying 30 days and paying now. Pay them 30 days, you’re a regular client. Pay them right away and you are a platinum priority customer for future work. Sometimes that’s a good investment.
6. Feed them
Niche tip but an effective one: I’ve spent a lot of my career working with creatives in lots of fields. There’s an art to getting the best results from them: clear briefs, paying them on time, and so on. But there’s one factor above all: feed them.
They’re going to be working long, weird hours with you. If you buy them food when they need it, it costs you another 5% on the budget but they will fucking love you and do their best work. You will be the client they’ll choose when deadlines are tight, because other clients never think to do this.
With all these tips, I’m not suggesting you let suppliers walk all over you. And some of them will try that.
For your business to succeed, your suppliers should be at the top of their game. Let’s be realistic: they can’t sustain that for all their customers. Some will get their absolute best, others just enough effort to get the invoice paid. The art of managing suppliers is to be the one they like enough to put in 100%.
It’s a mindset that will bring you karmic benefits
How you treat suppliers goes to your overall mindset.
There are two sorts of businesses. Those who think people are, on average, honest and want to do a good job. And those who believe that staff and suppliers are all lazy, no-good grifters out to screw you for every penny. So they must be supervised in convict-era fashion, with minimal rations and a taste of the lash when they step out of line.
Whichever group you’re in, you will attract clients just like you. They can just feel it. Treat your suppliers and staff better than other businesses, and you will get a better class of client.
What’s it going to be?
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