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Suppliers must readily support the long-term vision of buyers

by Nigel Crunden, Business Specialist, Office Depot

A survey of 300 business and logistics experts by software provider AEB and the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) University in Germany has found that although many firms collaborate closely with their suppliers, the majority are failing to capitalise on the significant opportunities this creates. A large proportion of respondents cited areas where collaborative efforts are falling down, specifically optimised processes, knowledge gains and “accelerated workflows along the supply chain”.

While it is good news that the sentiment is being readily taken up by buyers, closing the gap between simply paying lip service and concrete collaboration represents a major opportunity for suppliers to add value. After all, simply waiting for buyers to instigate closer working relationships is likely to result in a rival vendor getting in there first. Maintaining a transparent relationship with buyers, and demonstrating a commitment to continuously improving and learning should therefore be core priorities. Those that simply provide the basics, without appreciating the importance of helping clients achieve their operational goals, can quickly become overshadowed by more pro-active competitors. 

In this sense, ‘pro-active’ covers a number of key areas that suppliers can leverage in order to cement their relationships with buyers by genuinely helping them meet stringent internal targets.

Firstly, demonstrating sector experience and the ability to deliver to a specific brief should ideally be covered off during the selection process. Given the pressure buyers are under to make the right choice for their business, potential new vendors should readily take part in or even offer a trial period in order to demonstrate their capabilities. Buyers may want to instigate a theoretical scenario where a delivery or system fails to see how this is dealt with in a pressurised, small window of opportunity. This is where the promises made by vendors can be truly tested and provides a crucial stage of differentiation to help identify the right suppliers to move forward with.

The relevant sector experience of a supplier account team is actually just as important as the ability to deliver. Of course, the accuracy of day-to-day service and delivery rates is vital at a ground level. However, valuable industry knowledge of trends and behaviour in the sector allow teams to offer the above the line consultation buyers increasingly demand and benefit from. Ensuring there is an open forum for providing this added-value means that vendors should be maintaining regular levels of contact with their customers. In this way, strong lines of communication are maintained and issues – should they arise – can be addressed in a quick and efficient manner.

A good level of sector experience within a supplier team directly facilitates a better understanding of the stock replenishment rates. An appreciation of the dynamics of a buyer’s store network and stock requirements is something that can only happen once appointed. However, having an insight into the rates of delivery for a particular business – for example, a retailer – is clearly advantageous and something that can only be drawn from ground level experience to support the credentials needed to stand out from the competition.

The joint survey by AEB and DHBW University is an interesting snapshot of how a revitalised focus on collaboration as a means to success has progressed. However, for a number of businesses, there is clearly still some way to go before this truly provides a solid return on investment. Collaboration is key for suppliers in particular in order to demonstrate genuine pro-activity and insight that provides long-term business benefit and strategic input.

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