I am an expert in sales. Most of us in the supply management function are experts as well. No, we don’t actively sell a product or service, but do work everyday with those who do. We work with all levels of the sales function, from an owner of a mom and pop shop who is responsible for all company functions, to sales and marketing managers at mid sized companies, to those mega suppliers pushing buyers into massive call centers or to the web. Put two supply managers together for five minutes and the conversation will most likely turn to war stories about sales and marketing folks who took a creative approach (ahem!) to win their business. We all have them.
However, I am not writing this to excoriate the sales and marketing function of my suppliers, past, present, and future. I am actually trying to defend them, as without this function our jobs would be much harder. I always figured that they have a job to do, as I do. While theirs may be to increase revenue and profit margin, mine is to reduce costs as best as possible and ensure continuity of supply. We have more in common than we admit to, and at the end of the day we want to help our companies, advance our careers, and go home to our families. They are not the enemy, nor or we.
So how to we leverage this buyer-seller relationship? By understanding what we need from our suppliers and leveraging the sales and marketing function to be our advocates and champions within their organizations. I sell my company, and perhaps myself, as the customer who gets an extra level of service. If I do my job right, suppliers will be tripping over themselves to make me happy.
Here are some tips and techniques I’ve garnered from nearly 35 generally successful years in supply management.
I am a defensive negotiator. I try to act a bit as an ice hockey goalie. I like to see what strategy is being used against me and hopefully make a ‘save’ and start a rush to the other end of the rink. But enough with the sports metaphors. I have seen too many ham-handed suppliers try to read paperwork on my desk, comment on the family pictures in my office, threaten to cut off supply if I don’t agree to an across the board price increase, or act so patronizingly sweet that I make sure my hand is on my wallet and that my car keys are in my pocket when the leave.