Boutique catering for the big firms: SMEs are more than capable of scaling up ©Getty Images
Boutique catering for the big firms: SMEs are more than capable of scaling up ©Getty Images

SMEs seek partnerships - not just buyers

6 December 2019

How can we improve interactions to achieve supply chain diversity? A panel of business leaders at the CIPS UK conference shared their advice...

We are a hugely process-driven organisation”
Liz Axten Fjær-Unneland, events firm KTS

“Don’t dismiss us because we’re small; talk to us, because you’d be surprised about what we’re capable of. There’s an assumption that we wouldn’t be able to deal with a heavyweight tender process, we wouldn’t have the level of compliance, but we are a hugely process-driven organisation, we are ISO accredited, we’ve been doing big corporate business since we set up. We’ve met lots of procurement people who believe in introducing diversity into their supply chain, but it often doesn’t go down to the people who are trying to book our services in the creative world, and that is challenging.” 

“Transparency goes both ways”
Sarah Teasdale, design agency Butcher & Gundersen

“In our area, branding, the issue is free creative pitching. We have strict criteria that we ask the client to decide if it’s worth our investment. For a company our size to invest in pitches costs up to £30,000. So we ask the client how many people we are pitching against, what’s the criteria? We often find people are not truthful with us and we discover later we’ve pitched against 10 companies, not the three that we were told. So transparency goes both ways for me.”

“We need genuine human connection”
Tamara Littleton, media firm The Social Element

“We turn RFPs down when we’re not allowed to engage at the beginning, because we need genuine human connection. We have to understand if it would be a good fit, if there would be alignment with our values. And if we get a closed door: (‘Here’s the brief, here’s the RFP’), that becomes our test as to whether we pitch. There is also an issue around resources and admin. Being able to do separate purchase orders for 40 brand managers globally is a real pain. So working with clients to cut through the admin can be more helpful than shortening payment terms.”

“We get frustrated but we deal with it”
Alison Frith, catering firm Artizian Group

“I think 60 to 90 days’ payment terms are unreasonable, especially when we’re paying our own suppliers within 45 days. Can we work to those terms? Yes, because we have built the cash reserve to to do that, but why should we have to? We often get told payment is late because someone is not there to sign it off. Well, surely there is a contingency for that. We get frustrated but we deal with it.”

“It becomes about collaboration”
Elizabeth Heron, marketing comms firm OrangeDoor
“Our clients that work in large global corporate organisations are as frustrated by the terms as we are, but we understand they’re big machines – they can’t affect change. So it becomes about collaboration. If you have that relationship where you can have the upfront conversation, you can work through the challenges together.”

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