Choosing a supplier is like choosing a life partner. The wise decision means you’ll have a loving, supporting companion who’ll stick with you through sickness and health until death parts you. The wrong choice leads to a bitter divorce or, worse, a loveless marriage that you stick with because the cost of separation is too high. A dramatic but apt comparison. The right supplier can make life easier and help your business grow; the wrong supplier can sap energy and resources that could have been put to better use elsewhere and, ultimately, sink you.
Use your head when it comes to suppliers
Supplier selection is a bit like dating. You’re both dressed to the nines and presenting your best side while negotiating terms for a relationship. But some things you just can’t get a read on until you start living together, and all those red flags at the beginning are too often outshone by the rosy tint of infatuation. Similar pitfalls present (and are often ignored) when building supplier relationships. Here are five situations when you should ignore your racing heart and listen to your head.
- Many of us have found the love of our life through friends setting us up. Likewise, word-of-mouth remains one of the most influential endorsements of quality. Referral from a friend/trusted business partner is fine for low-risk jobs, but any situation that extends beyond short-term, low-value engagements should go through a rigorous selection process. It may be that you end up doing a substantial amount of work to select the referred vendor anyway, but at least you’ll have a more solid basis for your decision.
- With every date you go on with a prospective beau, you should get to know them better. Each meeting with a potential vendor should likewise lead to a better understanding of them and their business. So, if you don’t develop a better sense of who they are or what they’ve done, or if they keep telling you things you already know, it’s a red flag. Heed it.
- Some people have an extraordinary ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey without ever answering your questions. Certain vendors are like that too. They avoid the brief and respond as if answering questions they want you to ask, ignoring the ones you actually asked. They flex honed PowerPoint skills and avoid engagement by lecturing. These habits aren’t necessarily dealbreakers, but they are signs you need to take charge and direct the conversation where it needs to go. If they continue to evade, give ‘em the flick.
- Charisma can be wonderfully seductive, but it can also mask crazy. Similarly, one vociferous stakeholder can skew a selection process; beware the “obvious” choice pushed to the forefront by one or two vocal stakeholders. Challenge them on the substance of their choice. It may be that they were charmed by the vendor rather than convinced by their argument.
- To borrow from George Costanza, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’. Sometimes, the vendor is not the issue. Relationships are a two-way street, and it might be that your selection process is not well thought out and credible providers are therefore not being unearthed. Rethink your process and work to repair your reputation. It’s difficult to snare the right partner if you’re not presenting as a good catch.
There’s room for heart in supplier relationships
But what about the heart, I hear you say? Is it always wrong? Does instinct count for nothing? It does count, in particular circumstances. If you’ve found a vendor who ticks all the selection process criteria but, for some reason, the chemistry isn’t there and you simply don’t get on, don’t go with them – no matter how logical a choice they might seem to be. We’re human. We have our proclivities. Just make sure you let the vendor down easy – there’s no need to break hearts.