Throughout my career as a sourcing consultant I have interacted with hundreds of suppliers. Prior to this career I held various positions within the restaurant industry as well as other desk oriented roles in contractor and contingent labor positions. Among these roles I have been able to take the perspective of the customer, the supplier, and a third party. Based on these experiences I have learned a great deal about supplier engagement. Throughout this post I will touch upon four key concepts in supplier engagement, initiation, collaboration, communication, and sustentation. All of which play an important role in getting and keeping suppliers engaged. Also, check out some articles I have written in the past on similar topics to get a different angle on how to approach suppliers and relationships - Some Tips for Business Relationships…and Life and Building a Supplier Relationship Management Program.


Just as in any interaction, the first impression is the most critical when engaging a supplier for business. Whether the intention of the relationship is more tactical or strategic in nature, it is important to set the right tone. When I first contact a supplier for information on their services or product portfolio for a client I am up front about what my intentions are, and this is customized based on whether they hold incumbency status or not. In the instance where I am working with an incumbent supplier I take great care in ensuring they are clear on what my role is, what the process is (strategic sourcing process), and what expectations I have for them in the project. The most critical piece of that first communication is giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns as well as their ideas for improvement or value added support. The more valued a supplier feels, the more engaged they will be throughout the process. If they are approached in a way that makes them think you are just trying to beat them up on their pricing, they will present numerous roadblocks throughout the process.


This leads us to collaboration. A supplier can be a business’s biggest asset in many ways. They offer expertise that the client would not otherwise have, they can support the client’s development activities, and they can provide insight into their industry…all of which can be considered a value add of a strong partnership, information a client may otherwise have to pay for. On the other hand, some key things to remember are that while they have all of this to offer, they are looking to gain something in return, whether that includes insight from the client’s side, benefits from the development of new products, or additional business. With that said, it is important to be able to decipher the difference between INSIGHT and BIAS. Remember that as the client you need to maintain a slight edge over the supplier in managing the relationship.


Communication is an obvious one of course, but how and when matter most. Something I have found useful more often than not is transparency. Being open and honest about the process, along with the associated timelines and roles and responsibilities of those involved will keep the supplier engaged. Adversely, leaving them in the dark in these areas will lead to more work on your part to answer questions and have to engage new suppliers because you have lost the interest of those you in which you did not cultivate the relationship properly. Keeping them in the loop throughout each step of the process, answering questions, and simply talking to them like real people will go a long way in supplier engagement. With those suppliers who hold a more strategic status within the organization, routine business reviews are critical for both sides of the table to remain engaged and aligned to produce valuable and sustainable results.


By following the above three concepts in a continuous manner you will be able to sustain engagement with a supplier. Suppliers that provide good service and feel valued in the relationship will growth with you and look for ways to help you improve. As your business grows, they benefit from economies of scale so it just makes sense for them to manage the relationship. What the client needs to remember though is that suppliers can help accelerate their growth so fostering and properly managing those more critical relationships is a mutually beneficial effort.

For more information on supplier engagement and Supplier Relationship Management best practices, go to

Source One's Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) experts will be at ISM2016, where Source One is the exclusive sponsor of the Exec IN forum. Want to save on registration costs to attend this landmark event? Learn more over at SourceOneInc.Com/ISM2016-ExecIn.  
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Jennifer Ulrich

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