Marketing to me is all about managing relationships; primarily those with your customers and prospects, but also those with employees and suppliers. For more than ten years, I’ve had the good fortune of working with clients in customer service roles, with prospects in sales roles, with suppliers as a production manager and finally with employees as a business owner. I have learned that the way you manage these relationships can be the difference between success, just getting by and complete failure.
We may not always think about vendors and suppliers when it comes to marketing, but the way you build these relationships can make a world of difference. This is because one of the most powerful marketing tools is often word of mouth. The way you interact with your suppliers can be the difference between people saying: “Company X is known for being rude and demanding,” or “Company X is a pleasure to deal with, they handle themselves professionally and have always been great to us.” Word travels fast, especially in cities like Winnipeg, and the difference between these two thoughts can make or break your business.
From my experience, I’ve come to understand that there are some simple rules you can follow to create and maintain great, long-lasting relationships with your suppliers.
Ensure your employees are on the same page
Your employees know a lot of people and probably deal with suppliers every day in some capacity. This is one of the many great reasons to treat your employees with care and respect. If your team is happy to be at work, their excitement will translate to their interactions with those they know, including suppliers. This is a great way to build your company’s image as a great place to work and will also help to develop great relationships with suppliers. As well, take the time to educate new employees on your company’s etiquette on vendor/supplier relationships. One way to do this that is to pass on this article…
Respect the Request for Proposal (RFP) process
The RFP process is supposed to make commissioning work clear, transparent and efficient for both you and your suppliers. An RFP allows vendors to map out their needs and allows suppliers to determine fit and supply information that outlines their qualifications. Frequently, I’ve seen RFPs set forth that make suppliers put in an inordinate amount of unnecessary work to compete for a project that should not have been put through an RFP in the first place. Projects need to be clearly thought out and planned before an RFP is considered, otherwise vendors will be operating in the dark. The goal of the RFP process is to find the perfect supplier for the job, and without set parameters in place this can’t be done. My general rule is that if you don’t know what you need, don’t do an RFP.
Understand your options with a Request for Information (RFI)
I am a believer that when a new project/job is needed, only a small group of qualified suppliers should be asked to quote on it, never a random listing of 50 to 500 possible options. Understand that each company has to put a lot of work into the submission process (and thousands of dollars), and asking for this time and effort on a job where their odds of getting the work is slim is disrespectful of their time. If you don’t have an idea on who can/should be applying, do an RFI which allows you to condense your list to those who would be best able to deliver what you need. All suppliers have specific strengths, weaknesses and areas of expertise, taking the time to understand these factors will save everyone involved a great deal of time and energy.
Never cry wolf on rush orders
Always keep in mind that rush orders should be the exception, not the rule. If you have some breathing room on timelines, or a deliverable is important but not urgent, do not say that you need it ASAP. Give reasonable deadlines when reasonable deadlines are possible, and when you do need that rush order delivered, your supplier will understand and appreciate the importance of turning it around in a hurry.
Learn to deal with bumps in the road
When things go wrong in a relationship, or just aren’t going perfectly, how you deal with the issue is essential. Do you fire your suppliers at the first sign of trouble? Do you yell at them for anything and everything? Or, conversely, do you sit them down, walk them through the issues, ask for explanations and work together to prevent repetition? Always remember that suppliers are not servants, they are your partners and it is your job to treat them right.
Reward your star vendors and suppliers
Many suppliers build their businesses through referrals. If you are happy with your supplier, spread the word and refer them to friends, family and colleagues. You can do this by thanking your CSR on your company Facebook feed, passing on business cards to associates or even featuring them as partners on your website.
In the end, developing great relationships with suppliers comes down to being fair, honest and respectful. When you treat your associates the way you want to be treated, it will pay dividends in the end.
6PS: Stay tuned for my upcoming article on Managing Relationship with Employees