Why should you listen to suppliers? They might have some good ideas for you that can save you money or generate revenue. Perhaps they have a product extension idea. Or they know how you can improve a product or service. How many companies actively solicit supplier feedback and ideas? Here are four ways to get your suppliers’ best ideas:
- Strategic Supplier Councils – Create a strategic supplier council composed of senior management representatives from key suppliers. The purpose is to listen to suppliers’ concerns and ideas and also to share the customer’s strategic planning issues with them. This can strengthen the relationship and provide a wealth of good ideas.
- Supplier Evaluation Software – With advent of supplier evaluation software, soliciting supplier feedback and ideas is easier than ever. Supplier feedback surveys in which suppliers evaluate their customers can readily be launched. A best practice is the 360 survey where a customer asks its suppliers to rate them as a customer and may ask suppliers for their improvement ideas. This is sometimes called Voice of the Supplier, the supplier equivalent to Voice of the Customer.
- Performance Feedback Meetings – Companies who evaluate supplier performance and meet with suppliers on a regular basis to discuss performance have the opportunity to ask for supplier ideas. These meetings help deepen the relationship and enable suppliers to feel more comfortable about providing ideas and feedback to their customers.
- Idea management software – Some companies use idea software solutions to solicit ideas from suppliers and, of course, from their employees. Several companies such as Hype and Bright Idea are providers of this type of software.
But who is listening? And will the customer do anything about it? A recent article I read on Inside Quality Insiders blog, Eight Ways to Avoid the Kaizen Roach Motel, made me think of how pertinent the roach motel image can be. The article addresses employee ideas, most of which never get out of the suggestion box. But it pertains just as well to supplier ideas — they check in, but they never check out.
The hardest part of soliciting good ideas from suppliers is implementing them. Just asking for ideas is not sufficient. If the ideas go nowhere, suppliers find it irritating at best and a waste of their time at worst.
-Sherry R. Gordon