Should buyers get closer to sellers?

15 October 2010
I’m lucky to have been both a procurer and a supplier at many levels of negotiation. And this has given me a good understanding of what makes both ‘sides’ tick.In essence I found I could buy smarter by understanding and empathising with the guy across the table. But is this still the case? I see company policies that ban broad discussion with individual suppliers prior to tender. I often see bans on any perceived ‘fraternisation; entertainment, lunches, coffees or anything which might even give a whiff of non standardisation or risk of bias. Frankly it makes me wonder. Both buyers and sellers are individuals and one needs to understand their approach.. Can you trust them? Can you work with them if things go wrong? Are they empowered? Granted you can tie them in knots in the words of an RFP or contract but there will always be obscure caveats and omissions. You also may not even be asking the right questions or know enough about their specialist business. Surely you must do everything to educate yourself about that market and the players within it but how can you do that at arms length? I guess it may be a matter of trust or possibly lack of it. Do companies feel uncomfortable about their buyers forming professional relationships with suppliers? Are they concerned that a buyer will be influenced by a lunch, a day at Twickenham or a site visit? Even if at the end of it that person is more knowledgeable, compared notes with peers, and has a better sense of that provider’s capability? I am all for as much direct interface as possible. I know it never swayed me in my judgement and I am sure it would not influence yours. After all you might learn something important as well as possibly have a nice time doing something worthwhile. Surely there is nothing wrong in that. Is there? * Mike Platt is a business travel industry commentator - http://wwwbusinesstravel.blogspot.com/
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