3 Tips for Communicating Effectively with Suppliers

By ETQ on March 31, 2015

Communication…it is the key to all relationships. Good communication can inspire partnership and trust. Bad communication can result in confusion and doubt. How you communicate both in your personal and professional life will determine how successful you are. There are a number of examples of how businesses have crumbled due to bad communication. Therefore, it is critical to consider the importance of communicating effectively with suppliers, co-packers and vendors, to ensure mutually beneficial, trusting and successful partnerships.

Here are some tips on how to set a system for communicating effectively with suppliers:

Make Time for Face Time

Whenever possible, try to take the time to go out and visit your supplier. This may occur during selection and approval. It could be during an initial or routine audit. It could be an annual state of the business meeting. Meeting with someone face to face changes the dynamic of the relationship making it more personal and therefore more likely that someone will respond to you in other communication formats, such as phone or email.

Keep it Structured

While you will always have those emergency and one-off situations in which you will need to contact your supplier on short notice, it is important to also schedule some routine communication. This could be annual audits, monthly or quarterly conference calls, or routine weekly reports on items such as complaints or product reviews. Having regularly scheduled interactions will provide a vehicle for ongoing communication with the right audience.

Routine meetings should be purposeful and structured. In this hectic day and age, no one has time to waste. Reach out to the attendees ahead of time and find out if they have any topics to discuss. Send out an agenda prior to the meeting and stick to it closely to ensure all topics are covered. Send out follow-up notes and action items to close any loops. And lastly, review any ongoing open action items during the next meeting to keep everyone informed and involved.

If you do need to reach out to someone for an emergency, preface it with an email including a detailed description of the problem and when would be a good time to talk in the near future. Ensure that you involve the right people to take the necessary actions and make the right decisions.

Ensure Results-Driven Communication

Communication with suppliers should be results driven. It is important to cover the niceties but taking up someone’s valuable time with a lot of small talk does not drive results. Whether you are calling about an adverse situation (i.e. complaint, foreign material issue, recall) or a routine update, make sure your focus is on problem solving or continuous improvement.

  • Problem solving: Have a clear understanding of what the situation is with all the relevant details, have a recommendation or two ready to share, set the expectation of when a response is required and what the immediate actions need to be. Ensure regular follow-up on the situation and that any CAPAs are properly closed out.
  • Continuous improvement: Implement a supplier rating system with an easy to understand scorecard with key metrics that can be measured and communicated to internal and external parties (i.e. complaint trending, right first time and service levels, audit results, number of recalls/withdrawals, product review findings). Clearly communicate requirements and expectations and how the rating system is going to be used for performance review and accountability.

I talk more about setting up a good supplier scorecard in my podcast:  

Or Listen to the Podcast Here

Communicating Effectively with Suppliers – Things to Avoid:

  • Unnecessary calls/meetings: If you don’t have anything to cover during one of your routine interactions then cancel it to return that time to the participants.
  • Unclear ideas/agenda: Make sure that you have all the necessary information prior to instigating the interaction. It will save on confusion and make the interaction more effective and timely.
  • No follow through: If a topic is introduced, make sure that it is properly discussed and follow-up occurs with the appropriate closure. Follow through is critical to ensuring problems are resolved and documented appropriately.

In summary, when communicating with your suppliers, keep it concise, relevant and purposeful. Be cognizant and respectful of people’s time. And always try to follow through on requests and commitments.