End-user feedback is crucial in any strategic sourcing initiative. Their buy-in and commitment to the process can either make or break a project. Suppliers want to see a willingness to change, or at least make sure the customer does not intend to maintain the status quo, before they will get aggressive on price (or in some cases, even place a bid). The level of participation and engagement from the end-users will determine how the incumbent responds to the sourcing event, as well as how motivated alternate suppliers will be.

Most sourcing professionals would hope that actually achieving cost savings would be the difficult part of a project, but in many cases finding the savings is the easy part. Getting end-users to support the process from start (getting data) to finish (maintaining a new supplier relationship) can be a much bigger challenge. Here are a few ways to get end-user buy in:

Bring Them in Early, Bring Them in Often
The best time to bring the end-user into a project is before you identify it is as a project. Bringing stakeholders in as early as possible shows you weren’t trying to work around them or take the responsibility of supplier management off of their hands. In addition, bring them in often. Make sure you are working on several initiatives, with several end-users concurrently. Singling out projects will put stakeholders on the defensive – justified or not.

Backup Challenges to Traditional Thinking With Facts
Every project starts with all the reasons why the current supplier is the only supplier that can handle the business. Challenging these assumptions too early without verifying the information is a sure fire way to maintain the status quo. Instead, pay attention to the concerns end-users have with other suppliers. Develop these concerns into RFP questions, and make sure any alternates address them as part of their proposal. Create objective supplier scorecards and scoring methodologies before interviewing suppliers, and make sure the end-users assist in developing them. Keeping things objective throughout the process will help ensure an objective decision at award time.

Get Executive Sponsorship
Without buy-in from top level management, projects can easily get put on hold or tabled completely. Make sure your executive team understands what you are getting into, and report back any perceived roadblocks or issues to them as soon as possible. The sooner you show you have identified and addressed challenges, the more likely they are to provide additional political support where needed.

Make it Cross-Functional
Try not to make it a team of two (you and the end-user). Make sure finance, operations, and any other interested stakeholders are brought in as well. The more team-oriented the endeavor is, the better the result will be.

Make Them Accountable
Accountability goes hand in hand with executive sponsorship. Making sure the end-user has a stake in the result helps ensure they won’t be too attached to incumbent relationships or traditional thinking. If possible, tie the success (or failure) of the project to the end-users annual performance evaluation or bonus structure.
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Joe Payne

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