Good business relationships are an essential part of the success of any company. Like great marketing, innovative products, and an impressive online presence, it’s a cornerstone of business success. After all, you don’t exist in a void: your business is going to have to rely on other businesses from time to time. (Although, if your business actually did exist in a void, you technically wouldn’t have any customers, so I guess you wouldn’t have to worry about it that much.)
One of the most common relationships found in the world of business is the one between the core company and their supplier (or suppliers). This shouldn’t be a cold, strictly-business relationship. You should approach this with a different mindset: an open and welcoming one, one that knows that a great relationship with your supplier can bring many benefits.
Want a shot at bagging yourself a mate’s rate with your supplier? Then read this essential guide to this all-important relationship.
Remember: it’s a symbiotic relationship
You need your supplier. Your supplier needs you. This is a symbiotic relationship: two things working together to achieve a goal that is the requirement of both, such as you often find in wild animals. It’s mutually beneficial. Keep this in mind throughout every step of this process.
If you find great success in your products and services, then that means great success for your suppliers: they’ll get more of your business. If your supplier is doing great business – and yes, that means the other businesses that they work with also doing really well – then they’ll be able to upgrade their own service, providing benefit to you. By working closely together and forging a strong relationship, you can improve the successes of everyone involved.
Don’t be a pushover
Here’s the problem with some people who focus too much on wanting to be liked: they end up being a pushover. If someone wrongs them, they grin and bear it. If they need something, they’re not likely to be very demanding about it. Some businesses may take this sort of approach in their aim to strike up a great relationship with a supplier. But here’s the thing about pushovers: people start to take advantage of them.
Learn that it’s okay – even good – to be a demanding customer. Make sure your supplier knows precisely what your needs are. What kind of quality you expect, what timeframes you need to work in and why, that sort of thing. Hold the supplier to the agreements you make together. Of course, if things do go wrong, then “not being a pushover” doesn’t mean you should exact brutal vengeance upon the supplier in order to make sure it Never Happens Again. (More on that a bit later!)
I don’t have to spend too much time on this point, right? It’s basically rule number one: pay on time and in full. Here’s a fact: suppliers (distributors, manufacturers, etc.) are often running on pretty thin profit margins. That doesn’t mean their business is doing bad; it’s just the nature of that field of business. They need full and consistent payment.
Remember that, in this relationship, you’re both using some sort of spreadsheet or software to keep track of and gauge each other’s work. Think of it this way: when you’re late with payment, or you don’t pay in full on the due date, then this is going to be noted in that database. Some suppliers actually rate customers by their payment history. They want to work with trusted customers. Even the smallest business around is going to get the respect of their supplier if they pay on time.
Put an expert in charge
Dealing with the actual supply management is one thing, but you’ve also got to deal with the actual relationship between your business and your supplier, too. For some very small businesses, this can possibly be performed by a regular business owner or manager, especially as the operation is bound to be fairly small in scale.
But in most scenarios where a business works with a supplier, you’re probably going to want someone on this job full-time. And you shouldn’t assume that just about anyone who can use Microsoft Office and has a friendly manner can do this job. What you want is a procurement professional, someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. (Someone, in fact, who definitely wouldn’t need to read an article like this!) Agencies like Portfolio procurement can help businesses find the right person for the job.
You know what they say about friendships: if there’s no trust, then there’s no real friendship. Trust requires a degree of transparency, and this is something you can achieve through improved communication, as well as the recent advances in the technology of the supply management field.
Your procurement manager, assuming you’ve taken our advice and hired one, is going to need your help. You need to supply them with the software that they need to get this area of the relationship worked on properly. For example, an integrated procure-to-pay system allows access to real-time information without having to try to contact a supplier by email or phone. This allows for more substantial conversations when you do contact your supplier, instead of the sort of rote information-collecting you usually have to engage in.
Don’t get mad: get solutions
Sometimes, things go wrong. They’re going to go wrong with your business, they’re going to wrong with your supplier’s business. Sometimes, your suppliers will disappoint. They won’t deliver something on time, or they’ll overcharge accidentally, or they’ll send you the incorrect inventory… a lot of things can go wrong. Maybe it was a genuine mix-up at their end. Maybe they were just a victim of circumstance.
Whatever the cause, don’t start sending angry emails or giving some stern lecture to a representative over the telephone. Not only is that anger usually unjustified and not really worth it, but it’s not really going to get you anywhere. It’s going to erode your relationship with the supplier. As long as they know they’ve done wrong – and, believe me, they’re probably well aware of it and very apologetic for it – then keep it friendly and work together towards a solution.