Redefine the relationship between buyers and suppliers © Getty Images
Redefine the relationship between buyers and suppliers © Getty Images

Buyers should see suppliers as partners not competition

Working as a team will improve outcomes for both buyer and supplier,  said Steve Carter, the service architect and integration lead at Crown Commercial Service, who has worked on both sides of the table.

“From being a supplier to becoming a buyer has really opened up my eyes,” Carter told delegates at the E-World Procurement & Supply Seminar.  “We call them ‘the competition’, it shouldn’t be a competition, it should be a partnership. I called it gamekeeping, because it’s all about managing resources and helping suppliers.”

Buyers should redefine the relationship, he said, by re-evaluating key areas that guide the procurement process, specifically: measuring by quarter; influencing the supplier market; and managing internal expectations. 

Buyers and suppliers have to work together, he said: “Without suppliers, buyers can’t buy, but also without a good base of suppliers and the innovation they can bring, you can’t move forward. If you always ask the same thing you always get the same result.”

Map out the journey

Rather than being led by the last quarter deal, take a practical and holistic view by focusing on mapping out the journey ahead. Identify the needs and requirements of suppliers, explore what suppliers can realistically deliver, and regularly communicate the timeline back to stakeholders. 

Suppliers are usually driven by quarterly targets, and they need to make the numbers, he said. “Sales is a hungry business. Once you’ve fed the organisation, you’re then expected to bring the next one in and have a pipeline of these on the go, which is quite a competitive environment, quite stressful.”

By re-evaluating the procurement process, the outcome can be improved, he said: “Traditionally, there’s not much activity at the pre-engagement side, there’s loads of hard work in the middle, and not a lot of partnership at the end. However, the right balance should be increased pre-engagement, procurement, and once you’ve found your supplier, a lot of partnership.”

Early market engagement

If buyers take more time to engage suppliers, it can help mitigate issues further down the line, such as buyers not understanding the market and miscommunication between buyers and suppliers.

Nurturing the supplier community will ensure better outcomes and can avert risk, especially when managing suppliers during the procurement cycle. The better you know your suppliers, then a faster and better deal can be made, he said. Constant, effective communication throughout each stages, addressing challenges in the process helps improve the dynamics for all involved.

The process is smoother when expectations are set, which applies to both sides of the table. Suppliers need to convince their stakeholders that the project is worth going after too, he said: “They have to sell it internally so that the management in the organisation say not only can they win, they will win.”

“And they [suppliers] need to feel that they’re part of the process and not outside the process.”

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