Jussi Aromäki
Apr 6, 2011
Posted in category: 2011 Member Articles

Tips for successful communication with suppliers

How should you behave as “a good customer” for your suppliers? That’s probably a question we usually forget to ask ourselves.

Let’s assume you have found a good and right size supplier for your company’s needs. Everything looks fine so far. One day you understand that co-operation with this supplier is not working (once again) and you start to accuse the supplier. That’s the point you’d better keep in mind the fact that there is two sides of the coin.

To deal with these situations I have written down a few thoughts that have helped keeping the “good customer” reputation on. Hopefully you can find some tips to benefit also in your work.  But before you continue reading please try to adapt to the mindset that the supplier is on your side and not an enemy.

Strategic and tactic level communication

1. Meet suppliers constantly
By doing so you can advance the flow of information. You will get information about new trends and technologies and you may even get some free tips suiting your environment.

 2. Inquire about their development plans
This will give you ideas that you can use to develop your own services as well as information on possible new services that your business can benefit from.

3. Open your business model to suppliers’ key persons
This is the way for the supplier to understand the priorities and know what is important for you. The supplier will understand why some small things are vital for your business although they seem like background noise to them. The supplier will work harder for you if they know why.

4. Open development  roadmap
It is also important for the supplier to know what you are going to develop in the long run and how. That way the supplier is able to offer and develop services and technologies for your needs.

5. Define clearly what you want
Often suppliers are accused of poor outcome. The accusations are unjust if the definition has been unclear or incorrect.

6. Get important services at the right service levels
It is not the vendor’s fault if you don’t understand to obtain right service levels. It is only supplier kindness, if he still help you.

Operational communication

1. Tell about your projects and changes in time
The supplier has time to organize things and to reserve the necessary resources and capacity.

2. Use communication channels, methods and methodology agreed on
Suppliers have their reasons to use agreed channels. Supplier’s process is built around these channels.

3. Train and meet with supplier’s operational staff
Get to know them personally and working with them will be easier in the future.

4. Communicate changes that is made in-house or by a third part
It is better to hear about changes from the customer than find out it itself and use unnecessary time for the settlement. Sometimes you need to made changes very quickly, but remember to inform every time you can.

5. Prioritize and rush the supplier  only when there is a real need for it
The supplier shall retain supervision and systems to prioritize work. Do not hurry every meaningless ticket, remember the big picture. This will guarantee that you will get help when you need it sorely.

Be demanding (including yourself)

1. Do your share
Run the project and other tasks given to you at the same time window and piety than you expect the supplier to do theirs. There are always situations where you are unable to fulfill agreed tasks on time. Indicate this as soon as you find out about it.

2. The supplier’s success will benefit you
Think of ways how you can simplify the tasks that supplier is running for your services. Normally such cooperation will yield better results. The supplier is not performing his duties for themself but for your business purposes.

3. Admit honestly when you made a mistake.
The supplier will most likely notice if you try to blame in-house or third part mistakes on them. This will cause bad blood. The old cliché says  that we all make mistakes and that is absolutely true in this case too.

4. Ask yourself: are we a good customer to the suppliers?
Every once in a while it is a good idea to ask ourselves if we consider ourselves good customers? This should however be carried out continuously and meters should be developed so that its evolution can be monitored. This is a systematic way to develop this.

5. A good bell can be heard wide
Recommend a good supplier when you come across one. This is certainly heard by the supplier and will probably benefit the future.

6. Pay bills on time
This is taken for granted, but please keep in mind that the supplier earns their living by servicing you. This is the prerequisite of cooperation.

As you can see above it is not a question of technology nor anything particularly vague. It all comes down to effective two-way communication. Sometimes easier said than done.

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