A recent article over on Supply Chain Digital on nine crucial questions to ask prospective suppliers was in the right direction when it presented a small set of questions to screen prospective suppliers. Before inviting a supplier to an RFP, the following questions should be included on every RFI:
Can we have a copy of your Code of Ethics?
If the vendor doesn’t have one, or won’t give it to you, sound all the sirens and run for the hills. No organization can afford a publicity disaster these days.
Can you provide 3rd party proof that you live up to it?
It’s one thing to say you have an ethics policy, it’s another to follow it — and another yet to have true third party proof that you do. Make sure the certification is from a true third party and not from a small consortium of vendors that fund the certification agency.
Can we have a copy of your Quality Assurance Process?
If the vendor doesn’t have one, or won’t give it to you, then you need to ask yourself what kind of quality you can expect.
What certifications do you have with regards to this process? ISO? ASQ? etc.
If the vendor doesn’t have any certifications, how much faith can you put into the process the vendor is using?
Can you provide references from current AND former clients who did business with you for at least 2 years?
You don’t want references who have been with the vendor less than a year because the blush is still on the rose and they will be full of peace and love for the vendor. You need a real review from an experienced customer who can tell you what’s good and not so good. No vendor is perfect, and if the not so good is not relevant to your business, then their imperfection is irrelevant. Plus, if customers’ left, why? Was it due to a change in business? Or poor performance? If the customer left for due to a change in business, and they still have a good reference for the former supplier, then that speaks volumes. If the customer left due to continuously poor performance, that also speaks volumes.
Do you understand our business? Explain!
If the supplier has never supplied a customer in your vertical, and you have special needs, this could be an issue. It could also be an issue if they have never supplied a customer with special needs in your vertical or you have considerably different requirements than the average company in your vertical. Make sure the vendor has a good understanding of who you are as a company by asking this open ended question.
Who are your top competitors? Why are you better for us?
Everyone has competitors. If they don’t, then they are misguided or selling a product or service no one needs. There are no Blue Oceans any more, just open oceans that are only sparsely sailed (by a few companies who are eager explorers). Make sure they give you a few real competitors as well as a good reason as to why they are better, as this will serve to not only enforce their answer to the previous question (and let you know if they really understand your business) but let you know that they have attempted to be honest in their assessment.