There has been increased demand for hand sanitiser since the outbreak of coronavirus © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
There has been increased demand for hand sanitiser since the outbreak of coronavirus © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Hand sanitiser shortage hits Marie Curie

13 March 2020

Building rapport with suppliers so you can contact them in a crisis is crucial to withstanding a global crisis such as the coronavirus, an event was told. 

Emelda McBirney, head of procurement at charity Marie Curie, told delegates at the CIPS SM Forum she had spent her morning contacting suppliers to secure more hand sanitiser “because our nurses in the north of Scotland have run out”.

“I’ve spent most of my morning getting hold of suppliers to try to resolve that,” she said. 

Building strong relationships with key suppliers was important to help procurement teams navigate a crisis and for the sustainability of supply chains, McBirney said. 

“I don’t think anything other than a crystal ball could have prepared us for where we are now but having relationships with suppliers you can call in a crisis helps.”

In order to build rapport, McBirney said buyers should not underestimate the value of meeting suppliers face-to-face to build trust and avoid miscommunications that occasionally occur over email. 

“My mentor always told me to go and see my suppliers, no matter what they said to me, no matter what they wrote. They need to tell me and show me, and I think that principle still holds true.

“Technology will not really ever replace the first initial one-to-one where you actually build trust with your stakeholders. After that, you can use whatever method,” she said. 

During a panel discussion on techology and innovation, Rachael Colley, procurement solutions and innovation manager at NHS Shared Business Services, agreed there’s no replacement for face-to-face engagement. 

“People like doing business with people and how you do that first introduction is important. But it’s also about repeat interaction. People will come back to you once they have confidence in you and they want to do business with you again. The relationship piece is important.”

Colley added its important to remember the language used in conversations with your technology people will be different to that used in discussions with your finance director. “You have to adapt your style and technique,” she said. 

“I don’t think we should be frightened of technology and new ways of working; we should embrace it. But it’s a cultural thing and you have to bring people along on the journey,” she said.

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