Why do we need to develop collaborative relationships with our key suppliers?

Because we want to:

a) reduce costs

b) make process improvements

c) encourage innovation in products or services.

The first two both seem quite straightforward but to achieve the third one, we need to be open and transparent with those suppliers and focus on building trust.

What is supplier collaboration?

Collaborating with suppliers means:

•developing partnerships that provide a platform where suppliers and buyers can jointly solve problems

•creating an environment where opportunities for innovation and continuous improvement can be identified and implemented

•growing supplier capabilities to take advantage of opportunities for mutual benefit

For example, the cosmetics company L’Oréal encourages collaborative innovation. It offers key suppliers a preview of the consumer trends that the company will be working on and asks them to develop packaging solutions in harmony with these trends. Collaboration is also in the automotive sector Toyota built strong and close relationships with its suppliers according to the spirit of mutual trust.

How can I promote supplier collaboration in my company?

Develop partnerships

Organisations that are serious about increasing collaboration with suppliers need to focus on the “win-win” approach that generates business value for both the buyer and supplier. It is a two-way street. By collaborating, a supplier’s business relationship with us becomes more stable, they can become more cost-competitive and they will improve their core capabilities. It is one of the buyer’s functions to help suppliers understand the benefits of interacting positively even though it requires effort, time, and resources from their side.

Create the right environment

Developing innovative solutions to problems means working together to improve the quality of products or services. A regular complaint from suppliers is that their proposals for design improvements or speeding up processes are ignored or fail to get the attention they deserve. Opening multiple channels of communication for information sharing is a good start. The most successful relationships are based on openness and a high level of information sharing.

Support supplier development

Supplier development is about promoting capabilities or improving competency levels in suppliers for competitive advantage. This could be a new product line, a streamlined process or the implementation of new performance measurements. Suppliers are an untapped source of ideas.

Barriers to supplier collaboration

There is often some level of suspicion about motives. McKinsey identified that “collaboration requires a change in mind-sets among buyers and suppliers, who may be used to more transactional or even adversarial relationships. Most collaborative efforts need intensive, cross-functional involvement from both sides, a marked change to the normal working methods at many companies.”

It may be best to tackle those easier areas that can deliver results quickly and that can demonstrate immediate benefits to the supplier. If the supplier does not perceive that there is enough value in it for him, any collaboration proposal is doomed.

Keys to success in supplier collaboration

1. Sharing information

Open and transparent communication means sharing. This includes sharing basic information on their companies, locations, products, and services as well as transactional history. Cloud-based solutions have made data-sharing safe, secure with easy to use via dashboards and alerts.

2. Tackle the challenges

Some organisations have a problem with working openly, thinking that sharing operational and financial information leaves them in a weaker negotiating position. Old adversarial relationships with strategic suppliers need special attention. They drain resources and waste management time. Finding common ground on which to build a relationship is the first step. Lack of processes to support collaboration can impede the development of relationships but problems like this can be rectified with technology.

3. Define areas of responsibility

The desired outcome for both parties must be agreed and what resources are required to achieve it. Each party must commit to making personnel available and maybe even some initial expenditure. Often soft-skills training is needed in how to build the relationship. If there is to be any type of gain-sharing this must be defined and a method devised on how to reap the benefits.

Effective partnerships based on shared information reduces costs, improves service delivery and stimulates mutual growth.

For further information visit or call our head office +44 (0)1926 430 883

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