Do your suppliers love you?

Posted on July 17th, 2013 by

It’s difficult, isn’t it, to predict whether the supplier you’ve just found will truly love you and nurture you as a client, outperforming expectations?

In personal life, if you’re looking for a partner you can join a dating agency or use an online dating site which would match your personality and requirements to someone’s else’s and vice versa. However, in buying, the prequalification questionnaire (PQQ) is a more one-sided tool: you know that the supplier can meet your basic criteria but you don’t know if you will meet theirs. Moreover, they may just be after your money instead of a sound relationship.

But perhaps it is not as difficult to gauge whether a supplier has ‘honourable’ intentions as it may at first seem. There are some clear tell-tail signs that should make you hear either wedding bells or alarm bells.

First impressions count.

In their response to your invitation to tender (ITT), you’re looking for a good level of knowledge, an understanding of your needs and a degree of creativity in suggesting alternative options.

So, how much effort have they put into their proposal? Have they researched the market and tried to match their response to your ITT, or have they sent a standard document? Have they tried to conform to your requirements and also achieve the right balance of creativity? For example, let’s say you’re working in a nuclear environment: you need a supplier with rigid compliance to Legal and Regulatory Standards. So, have they illustrated the depth of their expertise and provided a highly prescriptive solution that you know will mitigate risk or have they tried to be too creative? Creativity is important but in the right context.

What can your meeting tell you?

It’s time for the initial meeting. Was it easy to get them to attend on the date you requested? What level of seniority are they sending: is it the local sales person or the CEO? Are they fielding a multi-talented team to impress you, or have they brought along some ‘fresh’ new recruits to train them in the sales process with the old hand there?

Notebooks open, or ipads fired up perhaps, and the meeting is underway… 10 minutes later you still haven’t said anything. You feel as though they have rocked in off the curb side and, like Rodney and Delboy, they are plying their wares. Do they really understand your exacting needs or are they just talking to an audience? Perhaps some mention was made at the outset about your accounts and how well you seem to be doing, but you can sense a ‘smoke screen’ with quite a few questions being answered by, “We’ll come back to you on that point.”


Or, is it that they are the ‘perfect’ seller? I have taken hundreds of buyers through negotiation sessions, and the very first question I ask is, “What do you like about sellers?” This is very deliberate because, whilst tenders and negotiations are inherently competitive dialogues, it has been shown that sellers are more successful if they play on elements of the Liking Principle, as defined by Cialdini. Sellers know this, so the better ones ensure that:

  • they make contact before and after the meeting (‘contact’)
  • they are thoroughly briefed about you, your needs and your business (‘compliments’ and ‘cooperation’)
  • they are punctual and well presented (‘physical attractiveness’)
  • they give precise answers to questions: no flannel and lots of listening (‘compliments’)
  • their pitch is well executed: just a few minutes’ opening, then handed over to you for some active listening through paraphrasing and reflecting back to you what you have said, building upon the Liking Principle by pandering to your ego (‘compliments’)
  • they find common ground, often in ‘small talk’ (‘similarity’)
  • use third-party endorsement (‘association’)
  • they let you know why they want your business and make you feel special (‘compliments’)
  • nothing is taken for granted, arrogance is absent and passion is heartfelt (‘cooperation’).

Sounds too good to be true?

The conversation turns to the specification. Is their market leadership in technological or service provision clear? Maybe they’ve won countless awards. Have they put up the slide with all the companies in the world that they have worked with, giving so much third-party endorsement and social proof that you really would be foolish not to accept their offer? Have they been too presumptuous perhaps and added you to their client slide as a trusted partner? Perhaps they are already referring to you as a ‘partner’ before the deal is even done!

It probably is…

But – wait a second! What about value for money? Do you really need all the features they’re blinding you with? Are they merely Business Wants rather than Needs, and would they over time make it increasingly difficult to source alternatives should the relationship falter? Are they a gold digger in disguise?

The question is: what do you know about the supplier beyond the veneer of the buying and selling process? What sort of relationship will you have with them as the months and years go by and the spark from ‘love at first sight’ wanes? Based on Henderson’s Product Portfolio (or Boston Matrix) devised in the 1970s, the Seller’s Perception Matrix categorises suppliers into quadrants according to (1) how attractive (profitable) your account is currently to the supplier and (2) the future value of your account to the supplier.

do your suppliers love you?

Click here to download your free Seller’s Perception Matrix Handbook

Ideally, you may want your new-found love to develop into a ‘core’ supplier who values you as much as you value them. Nuisance suppliers should definitely be struck off the dating list!

So, if the supplier you’ve found has shown the potential to be a good partner, how do you keep the relationship going? By ‘Feeling and reciprocating the love’ – the subject of my next article… Feeling the love: The buyer – supplier relationship

What have your experiences with suppliers been like? Good, bad or just plain ugly. Let us know below!