When embarking on a cost reduction initiative, one of the first and most essential steps to take is collecting and analyzing spend data. In a perfect world, organizations would keep strong records and freely submit their historical data. Obviously, however, things rarely go so smoothly.

In reality, all companies will at least keep track of their receipts. This means the diligent professional can determine an organization’s spend practices by requesting data from suppliers.

Data requests are sometimes easier said than done though. They'll typically result in one of three outcomes.

1. Acceptance – Where suppliers agree to pull the data for you, send it along, and go on to conduct business as usual.

2. Avoidance – Where suppliers agree to pull data for you, but then neglect to follow through. There are a number of reasons a supplier might drag their feet. Maybe pulling the data is difficult and time consuming, or maybe they've simply let it slide down their list of priorities.

3. Pushback – Where suppliers don’t agree to your request. Though an infrequent outcome, when it does arise, typically it’s because they may not know how to pull the data, they had trouble pulling the data and gave up, the relationship between you/your client and the supplier is bad, their pricing is not competitive (and they know), or - in a worst case scenario - the data simply might not exist.

In the latter two scenarios, here are a few tactics you can employ to cure a data collection headache:

Provide a template: Giving the supplier a template that details exactly what you are looking for will help strengthen the communication process. It will cut out any unnecessary back and forth and provide the basis for an informative discussion.

Provide a timeline: After submitting data requests to suppliers, you should provide them with a clear deadline so they can prioritize the request appropriately. Make sure to follow-up as well. In addition to holding the supplier accountable, it will remind them that you're serious about the request.

Work with internal users: Sometimes working with internal end users can be beneficial for finding a new contact within the organization who can help you. This could entail requesting a new primary sales rep or identifying a new point of contact from the same business unit as your initial contact.

Go to a higher level manager: If a supplier is difficult to work with, sometimes the best case scenario is to work around them by going to the next person up on the totem pole. Since this can cause friction with the original supplier contact, make sure you use this as a last-resort approach.

Pull the competitor card: Another workaround for difficult suppliers is to let them know that you’re considering other options. Inform them that their competitor would provide you with the data you are searching for, or that you may not renew the supplier contract due to the difficulties of working with the,. Since these conversations can instigate friction, it is best to reserve these tactics as another last-resort approach.

Ultimately, it is important to understand your supplier’s behavior before formulating your response. By understanding why they may choose to be easy or difficult to work with, you can tailor your interactions to receive the data you need and find the best path forward.
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