OPINION PIECE: Remember to look out, as well as inwards

By Nye Longman
For suppliers, recognising the need for change and not letting internal approaches or politics overshadow introducing tactics that genuinely help improv...

For suppliers, recognising the need for change and not letting internal approaches or politics overshadow introducing tactics that genuinely help improve capabilities are vital. It can be all too easy to get caught up in internal issues that may restrict or limit the quality of the service provided to clients.

For example, choosing to avoid canvassing potential new buyers in sectors that a supplier is yet to service because of the personal preferences of the most senior members of staff can be dangerous.  Although there may be a perfectly valid reason for not servicing a particular sector, agile internal teams need to be prepared to challenge this thinking if it is outdated or in need of review in order to be as alive to new opportunities as possible.

Of course, a proactive outlook does not just apply to getting new buyers on board, but also to the way in which existing business customers are serviced.  This should go above and beyond streamlining the quality of service buyers receive in order to satisfy board level preferences and requirements. However, by simply settling for the status quo in a scenario such as this, suppliers take on a much bigger level of risk.

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Buyers typically review the performances of their suppliers on a regular basis, so without going over and above the call of duty, vendors can rapidly lose out to the competition. Buyers also increasingly expect an enhanced service as the minimum standard and if suppliers fail to readily incorporate this from the outset, a long-standing relationship is unlikely to ensue. 

Addressing the risk of this happening comes down to the strength and format of the buyer-supplier relationship which, in the first instance, should be established through a clear demonstration of a vendor’s ability to deliver, regardless of the circumstances. Whether this is established through a trial period and/ or regular reviews of the service, it is vital that these checks are incorporated from the outset.

Part of this process should also contain an element of simulation, where a supplier is required to demonstrate how they’d respond to a theoretical breakdown in their network – this challenges them to show how they’d get around problems to meet a tight deadline. It is all well and good providing great service levels when issues are not at play, but how would a proverbial spanner in the works affect this.

The need to continually satisfy buyers only begins here, as the agreement of strict Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) surrounding service levels and due diligence plans will help ensure on-time service  keeps vendors constantly focused outwardly on customer needs. Of course, this must be complemented by a proactive approach to servicing buyers through anticipating the need for certain products or the way in which requirements can change seasonally. This is most successfully sourced from a team that has direct experience in the sector where a buyer sits. If there is not an inherent understanding of their business needs and ongoing challenges, the risk of poor service increases.

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The time when suppliers could become more complacent about the service they offer has long gone, as competition for highly prized contracts has soared. It is therefore more vital than ever that internal issues don’t hold up service. Teams must be willing to challenge thinking that might jeopardise service levels or potential new markets. There are new contracts out there for the taking but suppliers must pitch the right proposition if they are to thrive long into the future.

Written by Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot

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