Budget constraints. Reduced headcount. Environmental concerns. Online purchasing. All of these things (and others) are constantly changing how (and what) businesses buy. We took a few moments to chat with Amy Appleyard, VP of Sales for Staples Advantage and recent recipient of the AA-ISP Spirit Award, to talk about the challenges businesses are facing, and what suppliers can do to help their customers manage those challenges.
Q: Amy, what are the primary challenges facing businesses today? What are some of the big opportunities?
What we’re finding, particularly in mid-size businesses, is that the people ordering supplies and dealing with suppliers are wearing a lot of different hats, so they have competing demands on their time. They’re trying to do more with less, and it’s becoming more important to them to find ways to streamline processes and vendors and to look for ways their suppliers can help them save time.
Q: You make a great point—they’re looking for suppliers to help with their challenges. So what can suppliers and vendors do to help their customers?
A good supplier should be looking at ways to help with that streamlining and simplifying that most businesses are trying to do. Suppliers should be meeting them where they are, so they don’t have to think so much about purchasing. Ultimately, what they want is to get the things they want, the way they want it, in a timely way. So it’s up to suppliers to ask themselves how they can make that process easier so their customers can get back to their business.
Q: So if a customer is looking for those time savings, that efficiency, what should they be looking for in a vendor?
They should be looking for and getting a more consultative approach from their suppliers. This isn’t just about selling products—suppliers should be coming into your business and saying “Here’s what I see that you can change or improve on to help save time or money.” Suppliers have insight into other businesses and customers just like yours, so they’ve got great knowledge and opportunities to provide valuable benchmarks. It’s like getting a consultant without paying for a consultant.
Q: What should businesses expect or ask of their vendors that they aren’t already asking?
Well, there are a few things. For instance, that consultation, that benchmarking. If you aren’t getting that kind of insight and information from your vendor, you should be. And all those challenges we talked about before? Simplifying, streamlining? Ask your vendor how they can help with that, what they’ve experienced and seen with other customers.
Also, the more you can challenge your suppliers to work with you the way you want, the better—and they should respond to that. If you’d prefer to be contacted by text, or there’s a frequency with which you’d like to meet with them, you should surface that. Challenge your suppliers to meet you on your terms. Remember the relationship should be a two-way street. We’re constantly working with our staff to get that information from our customers so we can better serve them and respond to their needs.
Looking for more information and insights about how to get the most out of your supplier relationships? Check out our archive of procurement and supplier management blogs.