Charles Dominick of Next Level Purchasing and Soheila R. Lunney of Lunney Advisory Group recently released The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies and Techniques for Supply Management Professionals. In our first post, we set the stage with The Purchasing Professional’s 10 Commandments. In our second post, we covered the first four chapters of the book that discuss organizational role, supply management strategy, talent, and social responsibility — the stage that a modern supply management professional has to act upon. In our third post, we continued our detailed review with a discussion of the chapters on strategic sourcing and supplier qualification. Then, in our last few posts, we discussed the chapters on negotiation. This post begins our discussion of managing supplier relationships, measuring performance, and improving performance, which will conclude our review of The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies and Techniques for Supply Management Professionals.
The chapter on managing supplier relationships covers a lot of material, but the most important point that it covers is the Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) golden rule: when something goes wrong, blame yourself first. If the supplier was properly vetted, the contract appropriately defined, and the relationship properly managed, the only thing that should cause you a problem is an act of god, an act of nature, or an act of war. Unless something happens that would allow a supplier to invoke force majeure, nothing significant should go wrong. If it does, it is (due to a previous) error on your part. As the authors state do not blame the supplier until you’ve thoroughly investigated the problem and are absolutely sure that the problem was the fault of the supplier because many times the the problem is … the fault of your own organization. (And even if it isn’t, why did you select a supplier who would be so lax? That’s your fault!)
Furthermore, if you consider the primary reasons that most relationships falter, you’ll see that they are all your fault!
- Unclear Expectations
Often the performance that you expect is different than what the supplier understands is required. Expectations should be clearly defined with respect to metrics, written down, and discussed with every supplier. There should be no doubt in your mind that the supplier understands what is good behaviour and what is bad behaviour. Failure to insure that this level of understanding is reached is your fault.
- Opportunistic Behaviour
There is a certain amount of trust involved in a buy-sell relationship and if the buyer attempts to take advantage of every issue by demanding a discount or other concession (before the problem is thoroughly investigated and the source clearly identified), the supplier will lose their interest in committing itself to help the buyer succeed. Attempting to take advantage of every issue, especially when the cause is likely a lack of expectation setting or supplier management, is your fault.
- Poor Selection Methodology
If you ended up with a poor supplier, then the selection process was flawed. Guess what, that’s your fault too!
Now, sometimes it will be the supplier’s fault. Every now and again the shop floor will not have the dedication or interest in pleasing you that your counterpart has, or an executive, stuck between a rock and a hard place when he realizes that the organization overcommitted a certain product or for a certain time window, will decide that you are going to get the short straw, but if you’ve done everything right, this will be the exception and not the norm. And both cases are easily corrected a supplier that wants your business. A heart-to-heart will be had in the first instance (and the people responsible will shape up or be shipped out) and refunds or other concessions will be offered in the second. And the supplier will work with you to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And if you’ve down your job right, and you find yourself in a situation where a supplier decides not to perform up to expectations and not do anything about it, you already have a multi-stage back up, risk mitigation, and/or disaster recovery plan to fall back on. Starting with emergency meetings and site visits with your counterpart and/or senior management, through third party assistance (such as arbitration or mediation), through termination and a switch to your backup supplier, the recovery strategy and process will be well-documented and ready to spring into action.
The chapter does a great job of covering your options for rationalizing the supply base if things do fall apart, identifying cost reduction opportunities within your current supply chain if they don’t, and the cornerstones of good SRM, which is critical if you want a true supplier alliance, but the only other section we’re going to cover is on minimizing leakage. Once a contract is effected it has to be monitored, carefully, or leakage (which will occur no matter what you do) will increase from a slow drip to a gushing waterfall.
Minimizing leakage in an average organization is, fortunately, pretty straight forward. As the authors note, you:
- Monitor expenditures regularly
The biggest barrier to leakage (which can take many forms but typically takes the forms of off-contract maverick buying, over-invoicing, or over-payment) is a watchful eye. Like the watched pot that never wants to boil, a buyer is more likely to stick to a contract when being watched, a supplier is more likely to double check its invoices if being watched, and an accounts payable clerk is more likely to check for duplicate invoices or payments. The simple act of watching (followed by a regular report to senior management on who’s not doing their job) can often cut leakage from 40% to 10%. (And for some great ideas on how to find leakage, why not download the 100%-free no-registration-required eBook on Spend Visibility: An Implementation Guide?)
- Celebrate and Publicize Success
Securing an interview with a trade publication or leading blog and having your stakeholders participate not only gives credit and builds ownership of the process, but it instills accountability. Who’s going to jeopardize a savings commitment when the CEO has seen it in a news report?
- Involve Stakeholders
In RFP evaluation, supplier survey scoring, and even contract monitoring. If stakeholders feel like they own the process, they are going to do their best to see that it is followed and the savings commitments reached. After all, if they are involved, they are going to share the credit for the success (and that’s ten times better than being blamed for failure, right?).
Our review will continue and discuss the final topics of the game plan — measuring performance, supporting technologies, and your strategy for procurement success.