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Collaborating with vendors—September 2014 print edition

The case for involving vendor-partners early in the RFP process


October 7, 2014
by By Hugh Lawson

From the September 2014 print edition

With the sobering post-recession reality of single-digit economic growth, reduced head-counts and increased pressure to improve the bottom line, supply chain professionals and their vendor-partner contacts are under increased scrutiny to take their organizations to the next level. Although one would think that both parties’ goals are in contention of each other, never before has it been more important for the two to conduct successful collaboration and partnership. Below is a list of reasons to collaborate:

Time consuming process: At a recent supply chain conference I attended in Calgary, several attendees agreed during an education session that the RFP process is time-consuming and expensive for all involved. Typically, vendors will spend on average $10,000 in materials, travel and personnel time to participate. One can only imagine how many payable hours supply chain professionals use to fact-find, gather past usage data, build stakeholder consensus and draft the final RFP document. With each of these tasks and responsibilities, your vendor-partners can ethically assist you to lessen the burden, provide expertise and make the process more efficient and effective.

Vendors are your best source of product-service expertise: If there’s anyone in your contact base that has the strongest understanding of the products and services the RFP process assesses, it’s your vendor-partners. This is their livelihood, they work in the space daily and their level of intimacy and knowledge of the supply chain is substantial. Plus, they’re exposed to a variety of requirements and service-models within their client base. The most effective supply chain professionals interview vendor-candidates for industry trends and product expertise before crafting the RFP document and market basket. Your vendor-partners will be open to being a “trusted advisor”, as nothing is more frustrating and fruitless as an extensive market basket with poor details and direction.

Getting vendors involved early increases engagement: The chances of winning are often low, but may be the only way to compete for new business. Additional signs of lowered chances often lead to participants not putting their best foot forward with the response or declining to participate altogether. Not very encouraging sentiments to supply chain professionals considering the time and expense taken to create the RFP, assess the results and increase organizational pain/risk when integrating a new vendor. Although the RFP process is document-driven, it’s essentially courtship, a selling experience and a series of moments for both parties. Involving vendor-partners in the RFP development process earlier drives vendor engagement as they have more opportunities to work with you, get encouraged and impressed with your organization culture, your level of professionalism as well as your partnership-approach. These moments often lead to influencing vendor’s internal discussions where decisions are often made for special concessions and enhanced offers in their RFP responses. “I like what I see”, “this is worth the extra effort”, or “I have a good feeling” are the first words I relay to my team when I see encouraging opportunities.

Examples of ways to drive increased vendor-participant efforts through earlier engagement include:

  • Pre-RFP vendor-candidate interviews for market basket product/service fact-finding and expertise;
  • Pre-RFP presentation to vendor-participants highlighting your organization, its origins, culture, business objectives and goals for categories under review; and
  • Pre-RFP question/answer period to verify vendor-participant queries and help them understand the opportunity.

Engaged RFP participants means improved response quality, enhanced proposals and an audience often open to further negotiation.

Emotional Intelligence in the collaborative experience

As mentioned, although the RFP is a document-driven process, it’s essentially courtship, a selling experience and a series of moments for both parties. Emotional intelligence is often underestimated. According to Mike Poskey, VP of ZeroRisk HR Inc, emotional intelligence quotient (EI) is a set of competencies showing the ability to recognize his or her behaviors, moods, and impulses and to manage them best according to the situation. EI is a skill that can be honed and improved.

EI skills that drive the collaborative experience:

  • Leadership: inspiring and guiding groups of people;
  • Collaboration and cooperation: working with coworkers and business partners toward shared goals;
  • Political acumen and social skills: adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others;
  • Influencing: using effective tactics and techniques for persuasion and desired results;
  • Communication: sending clear and convincing messages that others understand;
  • Change catalyst: initiating and managing workplace change;
  • Building bonds: nurturing relationships for success; and
  • Team capabilities: creating group synergy in pursuing goals.

With so many parties involved, unsuccessful and ineffective RFP experiences are risky and time-consuming. Many hands make the burden light, and your best vendor-partners will be more than willing to support you as a trusted advisor in your efforts towards a successful RFP. Involving vendor-partners in the RFP development process earlier promotes engagement, improves content quality and, most important, positions you for success in enhancing your supply chain.
Hugh Lawson 20141Hugh Lawson is director of business development for Staples Promotional Products. He has over 20 years of experience helping clients drive brand engagement and improve business results.