No matter how big or small you are, often a client’s requirement means you’ll need to outsource. But choosing the right supplier is critical to ensuring you can deliver what’s asked of you. Tina Benson – manager director at corporate events company Team Tactics – offers her tips for those managing the supplier relationships that are crucial to client satisfaction.

For agencies in particular, it is imperative to have reliable suppliers that can deliver the product or service in line with the client’s expectations. Agencies occupy an important but sometimes tricky position on the supply chain between producer and customer. You need a strong understanding of both and must be able to build excellent personal relationships.

There are many considerations when managing a supplier relationship. Here’s my tips on the most critical aspects.

Choosing Suppliers: will they deliver?

When providing a product or service, your reputation and chance for repeat business is at stake and this must be carefully managed. Agencies often have far less control and must not only choose your suppliers carefully but maintain close communication to ensure that your customer’s requirements are their requirements.

When considering a new supplier you need to reassure yourself that they are someone you can work with. Will they put your customers first? What are their terms and conditions? Are these compatible with your own? How flexible are they?

Speak to a senior member of the company and make sure you are satisfied with what they will deliver. It is worth keeping contracts with any new supplier flexible so that you are able to change supplier if what they deliver proves unsatisfactory. This also leaves you in a stronger position to resolve any differences you may have with what they provide to your customers.

Supplier Relationships: the Power of Personal

Close communication is vital to ensure that your suppliers can meet your customer needs – the market you operate in will not necessarily be the same as theirs so always make sure they understand your customer’s requirements. This is particularly important if your customers have varying or bespoke needs that require flexibility from your suppliers.

Professionalism is important but try to build close relationships with individuals at their company. Take the time to get to know them on a personal level and engage them in conversation when discussing business. You will find that the better the relationship you can build the more likely they are to listen to your point of view in a disagreement and to accommodate more difficult or unusual requests from your customers.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket however – try to get to know more than one individual or you may suddenly find that your preferred contact is on holiday or left the company.

Managing Disputes

Occasionally you may have a conflict with suppliers over how they deliver their (your) product or service or handle an order. Remain professional but make sure your grievance is addressed – your customer image and brand reputation is at stake.

Speak to someone senior if necessary to make sure the issue is resolved and that they understand the problem from your point of you. Be open and honest – if their error has cost you a valuable customer, make them aware but admit to your own mistakes and be aware of their point of view. Their flexibility is likely to depend on your value to them as a business so compromise may sometimes be necessary.

Loyalty vs Diversity

Loyalty to a supplier can be beneficial over the long term. This enables close relationships to be established with a business and its people who understand your needs and those of your customers and from which you know what to expect. Of course, these benefits only apply when a supplier is delivering on expectations. A bad supplier can cost you repeat business and even your brand reputation. It is always worth being aware of other providers and if what they offer can benefit your business it may be time for change.

Don’t burn your bridges however as you may need them again in the future. Where possible it is ideal to have relationships with multiple suppliers or even to use several at a time as their relative strengths will suit the needs of your different customers. How realistic this is depends on the nature of your business. If you have to make a choice think carefully about the long term costs and benefits to your business and try to resolve any issues with your current supplier before you decide.

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Tina Benson is the founder and Managing Director of Team Tactics, a corporate events company providing corporate hospitality at a range of events and team building activities for the corporate market. With nearly 20 years experience as a small business owner Tina has extensive experience managing client and supplier relationships and competing with larger businesses.

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