Take a moment to envision how your vendors fit into your workflow. Are they components of the machine of commerce, or are they alongside you at the controls, ready to make the logistics process the best it can be? Engagement should be a large part of your vendor management process. Active engagement efforts not only keeps the lines of communication open, they also generally help improve your own in-house efficiency because it reduces external variables in the supply chain. If your engagement is currently anemic or lacking altogether, here are the best practices you need to start implementing ASAP:
Get in It Together
Conscientious consumers are delving further back in product manufacturing than ever before, and tools like social media and popular forums are uncovering discrepancies and ethical issues as soon as they appear. Your vendors need to understand that your mutual success is linked to clarity and transparency, and that starts with letting your company "in." Channel Maven Consulting notes that there are a number of partnership opportunities in social media, such as sharing follower lists, articles, videos and more between a vendor and their client—you. By committing to elevating one another's stature online, you'll both be communicating a desire for supply chain transparency to the end consumer.
Walk a Mile
If you were guilty of treating your vendors like interchangeable parts in the machine of your business, chances are you were having a one-way conversation about your needs. Taking the time to see things from a vendor's perspective and really weigh the impact of your requests on their workflows will signal that you consider them a partner in success, not a subordinate. Technical clients often fail to communicate in mutually-understood terms, falling back instead on insider viewpoints and specialized knowledge that can leave a vendor confused. In a nutshell, be sure that you and your vendor are on the same page at the most basic level: wants and needs. A good rule of thumb might be answering your own question from their perspective each time you make a request. If you'd like them to rapidly communicate real-time tracking, for example, are you willing to rapidly clear invoices for those same shipments?
Infuse Workflows with Progress Report Expectations
Mutually-held accountability works very well in a timeline setting. If your vendors know that they'll receive necessary information or payment from you by a certain date, they can plan their own output to match your needed dates. Vendor management shouldn't be reduced to a starting line and a finish line, checking in throughout the journey should become part of your best practices. Julia Burnett of Zenput notes that this approach also makes it easier to stop logistics problems as soon as they emerge, rather than cleaning up a messily compounded issue later.
Make Yourself Worthy of Collaboration
If you treat your vendors as if they're disposable or insignificant, it's only a matter of time before they return the "favor." Peter Economy of Inc. stresses that traits such as consistency and staying credible will help stabilize vendor-client relations and open collaborative doors. If a vendor can't trust your word or your ordering schedule, it simply doesn't make logical business sense to place their bets on your whims. If you want to be considered before competitors or brought in on beneficial opportunities, you need to make sure that you're the kind of player they want on their team. Endeavor to answer vendor questions as quickly and honestly as possible, every time, and give as much of a heads-up as you're able to when placing an order. They'll appreciate the extra time to organize their internal manufacturing or shipping processes, and they'll be more likely to work with you in an unexpected crunch.
It's time to take a critical look at your vendor management and ask yourself, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, not only what your vendors can do for you, but what you can do for them. When you commit to treating supply chain nodes as partners, you'll build a strong team that's capable of weathering a much larger number of unforeseen difficulties in the supply chain.