Supplier survey

Researching suppliers’ perceptions of their customer as a route to improving the customer’s professional standards and the effectiveness of purchasing.

One of the world’s big banks had set itself the objectives of applying and practising the highest professional standards in purchasing. An obviously large organisation, it recognised at the highest level some key features: the scale of the objective, the time needed to achieve demonstrable results, and the need for gripping evidence to secure commitment within the Bank.

Adoption of the theories and principles of best practice was driven by appropriate training and recruitment. Two ingredients – adding impetus and quantifying progress – were missing. Both were to be found from suppliers by means of successive studies over several years.

A pilot study – interviews with a dozen representative suppliers – was carried out. The outcome was more constructive than had been expected. Strong anecdotal evidence and a simple rating checklist provided quantification for future comparison and a focus for discussion and improvement planning. It also alerted everybody that the intention to achieve the highest standards was serious.

Subsequent studies built upon the first, involving more suppliers across a range of purchase areas, and introducing a questionnaire to demonstrate the validity of findings.

The results of the studies were striking, both in terms of the suppliers’ reactions (very positive) and the internal reactions (alert attention). The rating checklist enabled the Board to monitor progress and focus on particular issues of concern, which included:

• contractual arrangements
• liaison
• short and long term needs of both parties in the supply relationship
• responsibilities
• means of managing supply.

Day-to-day and strategic issues were exposed and prioritised, and the goodwill of suppliers and buyers alike nurtured. The intended benefits sought at the outset were achieved, and achievement of the overall objectives made more possible.

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Sterling Management Consultants based in Worcester West Midlands