2 Types of Vendors You Know Too Well

Published : August 13, 2015


The two people discussed in this piece are individuals who you know only too well as a supply chain management professional, but have never actually met. These vendor contacts are, jointly, one of the biggest obstacles to efficiency in the supply chain, and either one of them might be the reason you keep that bottle of ibuprofen stashed in your desk drawer. Best practices call for locating, recognizing and mitigating the—er… let's call it "bovine leavings"—that often come part and parcel when dealing with these two jokers.

1. The Ghost

Now you see them, now you...well, no. You probably don't see them in the first place.

No, The Ghost isn't a noir comic superhero—they're the nearly nonexistent vendor contact who's never there when you need them. Or when you don't need them. Or at any point, really. You vaguely recall getting an email or a business card from them awhile back, but mostly your business relationship has played out like a Fortune 500 version of "She's Just Not That Into You." You send informative emails off into the ether, never to be heard from again. State-of-the-project to-do list tasks live on in immortality, waiting for that response that's never going to arrive.

You know what The Ghost's official job title is, but he or she seems tasked with cramming as many sick days, vacation days, meetings and teleconferences as humanly possible into their working hours. Their phone probably has cobwebs. Their voicemail is piling up to Mount Everest levels, and still there's no sign of them. Meanwhile, you're left with a list of questions and absolutely no way to get timely answers.

Why you need to cut ties: This data and communication gap is often responsible for gumming up the works big time, so if you have The Ghost haunting your workflow, it may be time to exorcize them right out of your contact loop. The best practice here is to sit your vendor down and explain that if they can't provide a contact who is ready to work at your company's level of communication and efficiency, you may have to consider sitting down with a competitor to keep your supply chain running smoothly. Even the best per-item price is only worth it if you can order, change and discuss at the speed you need to.

2. The Conciliator 

A voice for radio, an explanation for everything and a track record with a lot of pot holes. 

Things have gone wrong again—a shipment isn't where it should be, you were charged at the wrong rate, the component is the wrong color. The Conciliator promised this wouldn't happen again, so you're immediately digging for their last email to give them an earful. Once you make contact, they're so apologetic, they explain how things went wrong, but it was really out of anyone's control. They sound so reasonable, you find yourself agreeing and hanging up or closing the last email before that sense of irritation floods back. Wait, what just happened?

No, you weren't hypnotized. You were tangled in the agreeable snare of The Conciliator, a personable rep that your vendor has placed on the front lines of damage control to cover them when they foul up. Personality certainly has a place in business, but it should be as a pleasant added benefit to a functioning business relationship, not as a band-aid to help you overlook egregious, constant errors. 

Why you need to cut ties: If you didn't deliver on promises to your customers, they would find someone else to buy from. Why settle for anything less one step back on the supply chain? Sure, it can be hard leveling with someone so friendly and likeable, but likeable won't keep aggravated end consumers at bay when your shipments are late. Don't hesitate to hold your vendors—and their reps—to a reasonable standard, and walk away if they keep missing the mark. You owe it to your professional sanity and your own fill rate!

Vendor management systems are a tricky balance of art, science and interpersonal communication—the last thing you need is difficult personalities in the mix. At the end of the day, best practice is to do what's right for your business, and sometimes that means changing or even eliminating certain reps from your Rolodex.

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