Right now you are probably thinking that you are a customer of choice with your most strategic suppliers because you went through an in-depth, multi-stage, strategic sourcing event, spent a long time qualifying the supplier and emphasizing that the buy was significant and makes your organization a customer of choice, and inserted language into the contract that said you were a customer of choice and will always get preferred pricing at least as good as other customers of the same size for the same products. But are you really a customer of choice?
A supplier’s customer of choice gets more than good pricing. That customer gets preferential delivery (if inventory gets low or transportation options become limited due to strikes or other supply chain disruptions). That customer gets suggestions on how it can help the supplier serve the customer better (through timely order placement, different delivery schedules or options, or slight alterations to specifications that the supplier can produce faster or cheaper). That customer also gets first access to supplier innovation (that would allow it to use new production lines or technologies to produce superior or significantly cheaper products using different materials or production techniques). And, sometimes, it even gets operational insight into how to streamline its logistics on the sell side from the supplier. The reality is that if you’re not getting this from your supplier on a regular basis, even if you are getting what you perceive to be competitive pricing, your organization is not a customer of choice.
Why do you want to be a customer of choice? The recent Global SRM Research Report by State of Flux found that many of the organizations that were leaders, fast followers, or that realized returns that were greater than the average return in their category had one thing in common — they were all perceived as a customer of choice by their most strategic supplier(s). Also, the study found that one market segment not only understood this need better than other segments but also better understood what the requirements for being a customer of choice truly were. Can you guess which segment it was? Contrary to what your intuition might be, it was not the segment with the best cost performance in their market or vertical. It was, in fact, the producers of luxury goods who often saw more value in working with a supplier who treated it as a customer of choice and went the extra mile to understand the organization’s brand and market segment than with a supplier who could cut costs. And while it might be counter-intuitive at first that these organizations often saw more value when they paid more, when you consider that luxury good producers profit by expanding their market share to people who care more about brand and quality than price, and will pay more than necessary for the product they are buying, these companies can often profit much more by selling more units at higher double (or triple) digit markups than by saving a couple of percentage points on the unit cost.
Thus, while cost reduction and control is important to the average company, if a company wants to realize long term success from its SRM efforts, it needs to take a page from the luxury brands’ playbook and make sure it is a customer of choice with each and every strategic supplier it does business with. (The Global SRM study found that more luxury organizations were regarded as a customer of choice than any other organization type.)
Why are luxury brand organizations so successful at becoming a customer of choice? While it’s hard to zero in on just one activity that they do differently that makes a difference, there are a set of activities that, collectively, cause these luxury brands to stand out with the average supplier:
- They proactively listen to suppliers.
- They use collaboration to innovate.
- They work hard to create supplier loyalty.
— AND —
- They recognize they are only as good as their worst supplier.
And the best part is that there’s nothing unique or special about these activities that limit them to luxury brands. Any organization that truly wants to be a customer of choice and is honestly willing to work with its suppliers can pull these activities off and become a customer of choice.
In other words, there’s no reason for your organization to be in a State of Flux when it comes to SRM. The recipe for success is easy to understand, it just takes hard work, adaptability, and perseverance to master the art of the relationship soufflé.