Supplier Engagement: Now I Get It!

Supplier Engagement: Now I Get It!

As someone who’d worked as a buyer for a major retailer with significant Private Brand business, I’d heard of the concept of Supplier Engagement and thought it was just crazy. I mean, we were the customer, we were paying for a service and the suppliers just needed to deliver that service. Full stop. Right?

Wrong.

Moving on from my role as a buyer, I moved into an internal communications role where a massive focus was placed on Employee Engagement. The mantra was that employees should feel involved, valued and recognised, which in turn would drive loyalty and better performance.

As someone who’d been in the business for ten years and had only known the 1970’s throwback leadership style of “must be pushed harder”, I found this new style of leadership enlightening. I soon came to realise that it was all about working smarter, not harder.

I’d really embraced the Employee Engagement style of leadership and started leading my team in this way with regular catch-ups, feedback sessions and team meetings where I shared our strategic vision as a team and as a business.

Meanwhile, my team had been working cross-functionally on a high profile product launch. We’d finalised the project before launch – as usual working up to the deadline date, leaving no room for any mistakes. We’d emailed the supplier here and there to inform them of various setbacks, and assumed they would be accommodating of our changes. However, when we sent the final proofs to the supplier we were stumped when they said they weren’t able to deliver for us.

“But we pay you, you’re our supplier” kicked in my buyer’s mentality.

“We have other clients, and we’ve committed to meeting their deadlines” they responded very professionally.

Huh. I’d never thought of that.

Whilst my team were running around like headless chickens to cope with this unforeseen situation. I took time to reflect on how we’d got to this point.

I quickly realised that whilst I was skipping through the flower-filled fields of Employee Engagement with my team, I had still been holding my suppliers at arm’s length and just assuming they would deliver when I asked. But why? Weren’t my suppliers simply remotely-based employees of the business, with whom I should have shared our vision and goals?

I quickly realised that throwing money at the problem would only get me so far; after all, they also had other paying clients. I was going to have to do something completely different (for me) to get my supplier on board. I was going to have to engage them.

And so over the next few months I began the journey of engaging with my supplier. I quickly realised that my supplier wanted to work more collaboratively with us and had a wealth of industry knowledge to share. And by practising my new style of leadership with my supplier I cultivated a transparent relationship with them that not only delivered benefits in accuracy and efficiency but lent itself to them become ambassadors for our brand.

How could something so simple have evaded me?

Naheed Khan
naheed.khan@s4rb.com

Naheed is one of S4RB's Supplier Engagement Consultants, supporting the day-to-day management of communication activity for leading Retailers and Brand Owners.

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