You need to get your suppliers to pay attention to you.
You have issued your first PO (purchase order) to your chosen supplier. Congratulations, this is a pretty exciting time! Maybe the first order goes fine, but as you get to the next one you notice the supplier is not responding as quickly or with the attention they used to. “The honeymoon is over” and you are now not getting the level of service you did before. Are you now just trapped, stuck with waiting around until the supplier decides they feel like talking to you?
This happens more than you think! Even big companies get ignored by suppliers once the PO is placed. So lets talk about what you can do, even without the volumes or budget of a big company.
FIRST : Know and use the right milestones
- Consider your update approach. Just because you want updates every 3 days, does not mean this makes sense for your supplier. Sometimes there is nothing to tell you until the manufacturing date. You will just drive them crazy asking, and they will start ignoring you.
- Identify the update milestones. Map out the different critical dates for your production and shipment, and agree together on when you expect an update or need specific information. Keep the list simple, making it clear for both sides, what are the key steps and dates, and when you will need what information.
- Put the communication requirements on the PO. Ideally you do this before you even place the PO, but you can also add it as a revision. Add the milestones, dates and information requirements you agreed to as a Note. Adding this to the PO itself makes it part of your agreement.
- Follow up. Take the milestones seriously, don’t let it slide if there is an update due and you didn’t hear anything. Be nice about it, but hold them accountable. Bugging them is appropriate at this point.
NEXT : Invest in the relationship.
- Get more personal. As a purchaser, you now have a relationship with this supplier that is important to you. Treat it as such. Send birthday cards & messages to your supplier contacts. Send them a selfie of you and your team, thank them for being a huge part of your success. Send them photos of the area that you live and work, ask them for the same. These people are human and busy, make working with you a favourite for them.
- Schedule regular review calls. That is right, get off of email and actually talk with them. Video is even better. Monthly is a good typical rhythm when things are not urgent. Set calls up ahead of time and formally, send an invitation and an agenda. If they are on another time zone, schedule it at a time that is good for THEM, believe me this will be much noted and appreciated.
- Pay attention to culture differences. An American “yes sure” is not an Irish “yes sure” is not a Chinese “yes sure” … and it goes on and on. Do some research on the differences between you and your supplier’s communication styles, and adjust accordingly.
- Go visit them. I know this can be expensive but it is also the single most effective piece of advice I can give. People are human and the fact that you took the time and come to see them face to face really makes a difference. And it will help you also understand them better on a process and manufacturing level.
AND JUST IN CASE : Expect the unexpected
- Build extra room into your plans. For both cost and lead-times, add in buffers where you can, especially if the supplier seems unresponsive. Something somewhere will go wrong, you just do not know what yet. So don’t add stress to your life by making a very tight commitment.
- Utilize local experts. If you are not within reasonable travel distance of your supplier, it is good to have someone on the ground that can go drop in from time to time. We once had a supplier that, when we sent someone to go visit … we found out they had just closed up and the building was empty! Note this is no substitute for YOU visiting! But it is much better than relying fully on a long-distance, virtual relationship.
- Think about Plan B. You need to take a good long look at whether this is really the right supplier for you. It may not be an emergency to change them, but if none of the above works, then do you really want to suffer like this for the rest of your product lifecycle? Consider using some time on the side to send out quotes and get someone else qualified, even if they are more expensive.
Please let me know if you already use these techniques successfully, or have tried any of them and what was your result. Maybe I missed something that you can add! We can all continue to learn and share together.
See also my post on How to Negotiate with a Big Supplier .
Some great links that I recommend for further advice on how to get your suppliers to pay attention :
- A simple guide on how to set up an effective meeting : https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-develop-an-effective-meeting-agenda-1918731
- Basics on how to structure a PO. (You are using POs, right?!) : https://blog.procurify.com/2013/09/23/all-you-ever-needed-to-know-about-purchase-orders/
- Two nice overviews on cultural differences that effect business communication : https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2011/11/28/how-culture-controls-communication/
Now go and rock on, entrepreneurs! I look forward to hearing about your successes! – Michelle