Category Archives: Supplier Management

Do You Have Too Many Suppliers?

Maybe. But maybe you should also be asking Do You Have Too Few? Many organizations assume that just because they have 20K, 30K, 50K, or even 100K suppliers that they have too many. And while that’s probably the case, the question is much more complicated that. First of all, just because a supplier is in your system, that does not mean that the supplier is still being used. Secondly, if you have 100 locations and always use local providers for janitorial, security, (bike) messenger, floral, etc. then you could have 1,000 providers for small services that cannot be consolidated due to business rules or just lack of suppliers. As a result, sheer number of suppliers alone does not mean there is a problem — at least not a serious one.

Secondly, for some categories you want multiple suppliers. If the product is critical, if one supplier cannot (always) meet all the needs, if even minor disruptions in supply could be costly, and so on, you need multiple suppliers. Sometimes more than the minimum number. Risk Management might believe two suppliers is enough, but if one goes out of business, how long will it take to find a second, and start receiving viable products and services. If you have a third supplier, even providing minimal amounts of the products or services, it’s a lot easier to shift demand to that supplier in an emergency. So sometimes extra suppliers are good.

Plus, the ultimate goal of (category) sourcing is to receive the best value — typically defined as the lowest cost award that meets the organizational need. Sometimes the best value will come from assigning all of the award to a single supplier, other times it will require splitting the award between six suppliers — depending on product costs, shipping costs, import/export tariffs, and so on. So, supplier count alone is not a good metric.

As you can see, if you want a truly optimized award across a category, sometimes the organization will have too few suppliers. The right number of suppliers is the number that the organization ends up with after every category is optimally allocated across both the strategic spend and the tail spend. While it will usually be less than the number of (active) suppliers in the supplier database (as most organizations that do not do sourcing across all categories will end up buying from more suppliers then they need to), it won’t always be significantly less. You can’t always cut your supply base in half just because you think you have twice as many suppliers as you need. You properly source each category, and when all is said and done, the suppliers you have selected represent the proper pool size. Any remaining suppliers that aren’t absolutely essential for a non-sourced product or service get cut and then you have a properly sized supply base as it was properly designed. 10K vs 20K vs 50K is irrelevant. Only so much value comes from consolidation alone. Remember that.

And that’s why, in his response to Sydney’s questions on What’s the Cost of Having a Long Supply Tail, and How Do You Determine the ‘Right’ Supply Base, the doctor noted that the size of the supply base is totally irrelevant. The right size is the size that gives you the most value for every category you source. That will vary by company and there is no fixed size, or even formula, to compute it.

And, as the doctor noted on Twitter, your only concern should not be how long the tail is, but how many rats are in the supply chain. Those are the only parties you should be in a rush to stomp out.

Strategic Sourcing Requires Strategic Suppliers Selected Through Strategic Sourcing Events

And this will generally mean you have to deal with a lot of pushback from those individuals in the company that don’t want to deal with anyone but their preferred supplier (which can be due to bias, laziness, or, in some cases, legal bribes). There will be a lot of reasons given, of various levels of validity, but you will need to bust through them all. To help, here are the standard categories of push-back and how you tackle them.

Our Process is Approved Suppliers Only

This is usually the first response because the individual knows the new supplier approval process is typically an onerous one and not one anyone typically wants to deal with and, thus, has a great chance of working (on anyone except a dedicated buyer). However, a response of “we know, that’s why we’re going to do a multi-round qualification RFI first and we simply need your input on the core requirements so we can get the right suppliers approved” will typically do the trick with this one. Of course, the stakeholder who wants the same (set of) supplier(s) will just move onto the next excuse, but you need to take ‘em one by one.

The Supplier Couldn’t Meet our Requirements Last Time

If the supplier was invited, or even considered before, and the conclusion was the price was too high, the product unsuitable, or the overall capability to meet total organizational demand insufficient, the stakeholder might like to use past performance to simply deny the supplier again, even if it’s been two or three years and the supplier might have improved (due to a lean effort they mentioned they were starting last time, new equipment and processes, or other factors). Plus, this doesn’t consider the fact that the supplier (if there were cultural/language barriers) might not have appropriately understood the requirements and put the wrong foot forward.

The answer here is “we understand, but the supplier has been doing X plus we are going to force them to go through the pre-qualification RFI that all new suppliers are going through to make sure they are actually capable of performing better this time before inviting a bid from them“. This will elicit a “grumble, grumble”, but you will be able to press on.

The Cultural / Language Barriers are Too High

Cultural and language barriers are often high, especially if you are going to new countries, but if both parties want to succeed and are willing to work together to succeed, they are not insurmountable, as long as both sides make the effort. You can’t just through a spec in English over the wall and say “you translate and give us your best effort on your own” and expect great results. You need to engage one or more product/service experts who are bilingual (or even trilingual) in the native language(s) (and who has some cultural understanding) for each geography you want to do business in.

This effort will go a long way into getting new suppliers in different geographies who speak different languages to put their best foot forward. The best suppliers will appreciate and reciprocate your efforts and put their best effort into their proposals and might even surprise you. The answer here is “we know, and that’s why we’ve engaged these individuals to be our interpreters and relationship managers — it might not work, but if it does, it could open us up to a whole new array of cost-control and innovation capabilities“.

We Don’t Have the Bandwidth

Once you get through the knee-jerk responses above, a belligerent stakeholder who really wants that preferred supplier will resort to rationalizing that there just isn’t the time to evaluate too many suppliers or re-create all the requirements in a supplier-neutral fashion. This will be hard to dismiss, as chances are the stakeholder doesn’t have the bandwidth and you will need some input from that stakeholder. This is where your negotiation and reasoning skills will be put to the test.

You will need to start by indicating we know you don’t, that’s why we in Procurement are taking on the majority of the workload — all we need is your input and expertise and review before each key document goes out. We realize that there might be some extra work for you, but if this works, we will help you identify new sources of supply (which will increase stability in the event of a disruption or customer demand surge), potentially new sources of innovation, and keep your costs — and your budget, under control. And if it ends up that the best choice is the current supplier, at what appears to be higher than market average costs, you will be able to say in confidence that you made the right choice with all of our efforts to back you up next time the C-Suite decides someone budget needs to be cut. You’ll have hard data while your counterparts, who chose not to work with us, won’t. And since the CFO says all arguments must be data driven … .

In other words, while you might feel the urge to thump out the stupidity, if you take a rational approach, use your negotiating skills, and demonstrate that you are going to take on as much of the extra work as you can, with time, you will be able to convince most of the stakeholders that your way is the right way. (And we say most because if the incumbent supplier is paying for the stakeholders yearly Hawaiian vacation in exchange for a single “talk” at their user event, well, there’s no way you can counter that as it’s completely unethical to source for the best favours. But, fortunately, this will be a very small majority of stakeholders.)

To Truly Be Successful at Supplier Risk Management, ADMIRE!

Now that we’ve carefully explained that you’re just not up to the task of preventing a black swan event, hopefully you have made risk management a priority. So, to help you understand, at a high level, what this is, we’re reprinting this classic post from 2010. Most of the articles out there get the basics wrong, but if you get them right, it’s not that hard to do a decent job (especially if you get a good platform to help you out). Enjoy!

Not only is supplier risk at the forefront of thought these days, but articles on it are at the forefront of online publications as well, including this recent article in Supply Chain Digest on the key drivers of successful supplier risk management. However, most of the articles miss the point.

For example, according to this article, the trick to successful supplier risk management is to:

  1. engage top-level management,
  2. segment suppliers based on relative risk,
  3. rigorously measure and manage risk,
  4. give category managers tools and training, and
  5. collaborate with key suppliers.

Which is all good advice that is fine and dandy, but it misses the point. Risk management is all about identify risks, identifying mitigations, monitoring risks, and executing mitigations at the appropriate time. Management support is important, but it doesn’t have anything to do with risk identification or mitigation. Segmentation is a good tactic as more attention needs to be placed on suppliers which represent more significant risks, but again it has nothing to do with risk identification or mitigation. The same goes for giving category managers tools and training. Collaboration is relevant only if the mitigation requires collaboration. In other words, in this list, the only key driver is the “rigorous management and mitigation of risk”.

The reality is that success depends on your ability to ADMIRE the situation. Specifically, the ability to:

  • Ascertain the risks,
  • Define the risks that could cause significant damage,
  • Monitor those risks,
  • Identify appropriate mitigations,
  • React when signs of the risk begin to materialize, and
  • Engage the supplier when collaboration is required to mitigate the risks and
  • rinse and repeat

That’s it. But don’t forget the rinse and repeat. The biggest risks today are not the biggest risks tomorrow, so you always have to be actively engaged in risk management. Always. And since there are always more risks than you can actively address and mitigate, at any particular time you need to focus on the major ones (but still monitor for, and evaluate, the rest and as soon as they become likely or potentially costly, elevate the priority so that a mitigation plan is prepared in time).

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If You Let Your Supplier Rip You Off …

Then whatever else they do to you, blame yourself!

Not long ago, over on Spend Matters UK, the public defender penned a post on Public Sector Project Failures, Blame the Suppliers! which, while likely deserving of some vile for having the audacity to continue to overcharge the public coffers for the products and services they deliver (something they likely wouldn’t get away with if it was a big private sector client which was a leader in strategic sourcing and supplier management), is not, in the doctor‘s view, deserving of all the vile. After all, as we penned here not that long ago in our post on whether or not your suppliers are ripping you off, if you are letting them, then they are.

But that’s not all they are doing if you let them. What else you ask? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s step back.

If you flip over to the public defender‘s post, he mentions an article by Allan Watton of Best Practice Group discusses what an organization can do if a provider exhibits problems that impacts the service to your recommendation. And this is the crux of it. If they are willing to rip you off, and you are willing to let them, then if their quality slides, they are likely also willing to send you (more) inferior/defective products, let their service commitments slip (in favour of another customer if resources are thinner than they guaranteed), and even fail to enforce necessary social responsibility and sustainability requirements that they agreed to (that will get you, and not them, thrown into boiling hot water if not adhered to).

And, frankly, as far as Si is concerned, if this happens, if you are not watching them and working with (or, if necessary, replacing) them, then it is all your fault and you only have yourself to blame. Yes, they are deserving of vile for being such scumbags in the first place if they do any of this, but it’s your supply chain delivering your product to your customers, so it’s your responsibility to monitor and if anything happens, as per legislations being introduced around the globe, unless you took reasonable measures to monitor, it’s your fault. So the ultimate blame rests with you.

But, as the public defender points out, sometimes monitoring and managing won’t be enough. Often time the suppliers, while a little bad, aren’t truly rotten and can be improved with monitoring and management, but sometimes you truly do have a truly rotten apple that you can’t do anything with. In this case, you will need to switch, and to do that quickly and effectively, with as little disruption as possible, you will need a disaster recovery plan, an extreme mitigation plan where you are not dealing with a temporary disruption due to weather, equipment failure, etc. but the need to replace an entire supplier permanently. And that’s why risk management is discussed regularly on this blog, because it does no good to identify millions of savings with optimization and analytics only to lose it because you weren’t prepared for that eventual black-swan mega-disruption that is coming your way!

Are Your Suppliers Ripping You Off?

A recent post over on the public defender‘s blog asked if suppliers [are] still ripping us off. And it’s a good question, because it’s a common, constant, fear that is never talked about. Not only is it often the biggest elephant in the room, but it’s the biggest herd of elephants as there’s typically one in every room of every buying organization.

But rather than asking an array of speakers what their thoughts are, we’re going to get right to the point and give you the answer, which, surprisingly, can be summed up in six words.

That depends, are you letting them?

While your job in Procurement is to get the best damn deal you can, keeping costs as low as possible while keeping the benefits high to maximize value, the sales person’s job who is selling to you has, as their job, to get the most amount of money for the least amount of product and service, maximizing their profit and, more importantly, their bonus (which is typically 100% tied to the order value).

If you don’t do your homework and establish the true market price or true should cost price, then its likely that they can convince you that a 3% decrease on their current price (which is 30% over should-cost) is a savings and you walk away thinking you won when you are still being ripped off big time. We have to remember why so many suppliers were, and in some case, still are, resistant to e-Auctions — because these expose fat in supplier margins faster than any other sourcing exercise when you invite new, hungry, suppliers who will lower their margins just to win business.

In certain verticals, such as electronics and office supplies in particular, most suppliers make their profit by charging you as much as possible, which they do by offering you great prices on a small set of products and markups on a large set of related products that your users are just as likely, or more likely to order. For example, an office supplies vendor will give you the best deal on the 5 park of laser cartridges but the 10 pack will be 3 times the cost of the 5-pack, and the office manager, wanting to minimize orders, will order the 10-pack not knowing the 5-pack is the preferred product. And in electronics, they’ll give you a great deal on system configurations that sound good, but are sub-optimal, and then make money on upgrades a year later. For example, a desktop with the brand new processor, lots of space, and a HD screen, but only 4 MB of RAM when they know the default usage means that the machine should really have 8 MB of RAM. But there are only 2 slots, so both chips will have to be replaced at full retail rates down the road (as no special pricing was negotiated on upgrades, only full system replacements).

But it’s not just your indirect and MRO suppliers that will pull a fast one, any sleazy salesperson who sees an opening with a buyer who didn’t do their homework will pull a fast one. So if you don’t do your homework, and negotiate fact based, your organization is probably getting ripped off. Even if the costs are close to what they should be, chances are lack of hard fact-based negotiation means you missed out on value adds.

In summary, This Song’s Just Six Words Long, and whether or not you get ripped off is entirely up to you.