Before you select a strategic supplier, no matter how good their RFI looks, be sure to ask them some point blank questions that are critical to your business and judge the answers they give you (as well as their openness and directness in giving you these answers). Remember, you’re depending on them to serve your strategic customers so you need to be sure they can get it right.
Can we have a copy of your Code of Ethics, CSR Practices, and Privacy Policies?
If the vendor doesn’t have any of these, 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, and a supplier without good ethics (that it is willing to follow), good social responsibility (that it is willing to enforce), and good privacy (that enable it to comply with legislation like GDPR) is YOUR publicity disaster waiting to happen — and we all know what that does to your brand value!
Can you provide 3rd party proof that you live up to it?
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. (The answer is obvious: low!) Note that you may need a document for each distinct type of product you purchase.
What certifications do you have with regards to your Quality Assurance 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?
Just like your customers ask you for references, if this supplier is going to be strategic, you need its references. And remember that 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.
What is your dispute resolution process?
Face it, at some point, something is going to go wrong. Sh!t happens. How do they deal with it? And is it a process that you can deal with?
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.
Is this everything you need to ask to make sure the supplier can be a strategic partner? No. But it’s a good start!