Account managers and buyers tell us that there are three types of people they deal with when it comes to “partnership”:

  1. Those who talk about partnership, but don’t actually practise it;
  2. Those who neither talk about it, nor practise it;
  3. Those who do it!

I am not going to define “Supplier Partnership”, however, having been both a buyer and an account manager, I know what a partnership looks like, and what keeps it going. So here’s a few pointers:

The first thing to do is make sure you understand what drives your business, what your business actually need. I remember that in my early days as a buyer I fell into the trap of spending too much time talking to my suppliers about my wants, such as promotions, levels of funding, discounts. In fact, what I needed was new ways to grow my sales, more customers into my stores and in my category, more of them trading up to more premium products, and yes, of course, more margin.

Similarly, spend some time finding out your supplier’s or customer’s needs – rather than just what they say they want. Focussing on needs will enable you to develop far more creative solutions. Discussions about wants tend to be limited to Give me x, while discussions about needs are far broader and open up opportunities for questions such as what if we did y?, and how could we achieve z? This is where the added value is found, and these are the useful conversations that can lead to solutions with a point of difference leading to competitive advantages.

This level of conversation means being prepared to share information, and that takes trust. Sometimes you need to take a risk and begin sharing information unconditionally, and this often takes the relationship to a new level of trust and is reciprocated.

Of course, it is not appropriate to seek this kind of relationship with all your business partners, so you need to segment your customers or suppliers from time to time and decide where you are going to invest time and resource. If the opportunity exists to form a closer partnership that can create value for both parties, you need to move the conversation beyond Wants to Needs.