Communication with suppliers key to driving innovation

Gurjit Degun
25 September 2014

By understanding suppliers' needs, teacher training provider Creative Education has been able to reduce procurement spend without compromising on quality.

When faced with squeezed budgets as a result of the economic crisis, the firm’s procurement manager Milla Harloff-Bernyk said she used innovation to make sure the company could still offer the same service.

She said she was determined not to drop quality – for example using budget hotels as venues instead of Marriott Hotels – because she knew how much the customers valued the experience.

Harloff-Bernyk told delegates at the eWorld Purchasing & Supply conference in London yesterday she made use of an e-sourcing platform from Market Dojo to free up her team’s time for “human interaction and communication”.

“I believe the data is good, software is brilliant but without adoption it’s not going to happen,” she said. “So that’s why we have used something that suppliers will find very user-friendly and easy to interact with.”

The team used social media to build a business case. Instead of asking suppliers what they can provide, Harloff-Bernyk told them about the company to encourage them to bid for its business. “The more suppliers you have interested the more competition you have, you have a bigger choice and you are able to secure suppliers you’d really like to work with.

“We went to key suppliers and the ones we wanted to bring on board, for example I really wanted Marriott so I went to the senior directors and asked them: ‘What are your targets for 2015? What are your challenges for next year? What are your obstacles to achieving your target? And is there anything I can do to help you?

“Because it was an informal discussion, it was part of a pre-tender discussion communication. We’ve had pretty good response. We then used SurveyMonkey to ask other suppliers what challenges they face and what is happening in their business.

“We took all the information on board we discussed internally where the areas overlap between what suppliers are looking for and what we can offer without compromising our business. We then built a business case that matches some of the most important points [that the suppliers noted].”

Harloff-Bernyk explained the suppliers were very impressed with this and all wanted to work with Creative Education. She then took to social media “to shout about [what Creative Education can offer] from the rooftops” to encourage other suppliers to approach the company.

Harloff-Bernyk said the feedback she received included suppliers saying they need people to use their venues on Mondays and Fridays. Creative Education found teachers would also much prefer either of these days.

When speaking to Marriott Hotels, Harloff-Bernyk found out corporate social responsibility is very important to the company. “[The business] is very keen on supporting local communities,” she said. “When I talked to Marriott, I made them aware that that’s where our policies lie too. It’s not just about price.”

Harloff-Bernyk added she received some very innovative ideas such as offering a complimentary full English breakfast which added value for customers.

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