Understanding supplier needs

Published in the February 2020 issue of Fleet Affiliation

It’s the time of year when you and your colleagues may be finalizing budgets and purchasing cycles for the year. With that, it’s important to understand your suppliers’ needs. As customers, we often lose sight of this. It’s expected that suppliers do the sales legwork, and it’s often important and efficient to understand their needs. A symbiotic relationship between customer and supplier can cut through a lot of noise, i.e., confusion and miscommunication resulting in lost time and money. Whether it is delayed purchasing, or re-works, lost time affects and costs everybody. Taking the approach that you (the customer) are always right becomes a slippery slope sometimes. To some degree, believing your organization (as a customer) is an industry driving force is correct; however, understanding supplier constraints and challenges will eventually help you help them deliver superior products and services.

Set the communication and understand expectations
When a detailed specification is written, it can be an indication it’s not an off-the-shelf unit. There is a substantial amount of time spent on providing the details to ensure a proper unit is built to complete the task for which it was designed. This is where effective communication plays a critical role. There are two aspects of communication — verbal and written — to consider when working with suppliers. In the end, you must provide a clearly written document describing not only the design, but your expectations as well. However, before this can be done, there should be extensive verbal communication. Verbal communication can be the most susceptible to unclear and miscommunications. Inaccurate information does not allow you to succeed with a written communication. It’s important to follow and close the communication loop. Think of it as a continual cycle. You, a sender, expresses a communication to a receiver. Ask for feedback from the receiver so that you know the correct information was transferred. This closes the loop, and you can be confident you are understood. This method means that two or more parties can communicate with correct information in the most efficient manner.

Several points to keep in mind:

  • Never assume. Assumptions can be the greatest pitfall to good communication. Both parties may be expected to be on the same page, yet taking an extra moment and excluding assumptions can be a time-saver. Remember, re-works are time consuming and expensive once a unit is built.
  • Keep an open mind. While there is a lot of user/purchaser expertise, an open mind to new ideas can enlighten organizations beyond current operations.
  • Patience is a virtue. Getting things right can sometimes take time. Most importantly, remember, it’s always cost efficient to have units built correctly from the beginning.

Putting it all together
The final step is the written communication. Using the gathered information will allow you to produce a well written document that suppliers understand. In the end, having an efficiently written specification will often result in a bottom-line reduction.