Supply chain superstars: How to work with the best

No business is an island, and in order to prosper, fulfill customer expectations, and expand, you need contacts with the right suppliers that can help you now and support your expansion ambitions.  From internet providers to raw materials, SEO agencies to office supplies, every business exists in an interconnected web of providers, and that is a delicate ecosystem to maintain.

But the other businesses in your supply chain are much more than just a means to services and materials you need to keep things running smoothly – they can also be valuable operational partners. The insight they can provide into market conditions, new product ideas, competitor activity and new opportunities are a wealth of information that you should aim to tap into. Selecting, working with and maintaining great relationships with the very best suppliers should be an integral part of your business growth strategy.

How to Work With the Best

If you suspect the relationships you’ve started off with aren’t all they could be, or that you’re overpaying, you don’t necessarily need to begin a re-tendering process. Using negotiation skills, you’ll find it’s quite possible to improve the service level, get inside knowledge and even push price margins. A good strategy can transform existing supplier relationships from middle-of-the-road to superstar.

Knowing The Market

You’re in prime position to find the best suppliers to work with, using a combination of internet research, in-person visits, and local market intelligence. The best route is to choose suppliers who have specific track records relating to your requirements. For example, if you’ve built a business around ecommerce and you use a specific software like Magento that requires technical support, track down a specialist such as Bing the Magento agency. If you need a particular ball bearing, then make it your business to understand who supplies the companies in the industry that you aspire to be like. There’s a good chance that part of their success comes from their supplier base.

Finding The Right Margin

Business-to-business pricing structures are complex, opaque and variable – the opposite of walking into a store and paying the price advertised on the shelf. There’s a whole range of different service charges that depend on variable such as mass buying, the individual negotiated terms, the length and quality of the supplier relationship and myriad other factors. So certainly don’t be held back by being afraid to ask. Start by asking what is required to get a better deal and what options are available. Disclose non-sensitive long-term plans to show your intentions to form a lasting, profitable relationship. Ask them what you need to do to become a top client. The benefits of a frank conversation where you acknowledge what you can do to better the relationship range from grace periods on payment to lower bulk costs.

A Higher Service Level

If all other factors are right, but you’re dissatisfied with some aspect of the service you’re receiving, think twice before you walk away. Giving some honest feedback may not only improve the relationship with the supplier but prevent the resource intensive process of starting fresh elsewhere. Businesses can be vast, and it’s often communication problems that prevent them from delivering the best service, so make your complaints known in a neutral way and give them a chance to rectify the situation rather than simply walking away. Of course, if you ask for better service and nothing changes, that’s a valid reason to start looking elsewhere.

*This is a contributed post

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