Advice for building positive supplier relationships in the procurement process
“That supplier was really good at the beginning.”
“Suppliers are the enemy.”
“We don’t like them.”
“They are out to get as much money out of us as possible.”
This is not the view shared by all buyers, but I know from experience there is often a battle between buyer and supplier, and this battle is through a lack of trust; a wariness that a supplier is there to squeeze as much money out of an organisation whilst delivering as little as possible against the contract.
It is a shame when situations do get to this stage, but I often feel this is why a buyer is reluctant, scared, or simply not willing to provide feedback to a supplier following the award of a contract.
I love people, and I love talking to people, so interaction with a supplier is already within my sweet spot. I’m all up for engaging in the pre-procurement stage, during the procurement, and post-award, so you could say the whole process. I’m not proud, and not afraid to admit I don’t know everything. In order to improve my knowledge, I will spend time with suppliers, understand their product and how they can help the organisation I’m supporting get the right quality at the right price, at the right time.
However, there is often a reluctance from a buyer to engage with suppliers, to be open and honest with them, and this is especially true when it comes to providing supplier feedback.
At this stage, I’d like to remind myself and those reading this, that embedded into public sector procurement is the idea of being open, fair, and transparent. If a buyer is not engaging with suppliers in an effective way, then how can it be all of those things; open, fair and transparent?
There are obviously varying degrees of openness, but a buyer who is not engaging and speaking to a supplier could be perceived as being closed and withholding information. Is this fair then? Well of course it isn’t. Be open with a supplier and you will get a better response.
It’s like me telling one of my daughters where we keep the pens so she can do her homework, and not her sister. It provides an obvious advantage and disadvantage to both, thus I don’t think I need to answer whether it is transparent – of course, it isn’t.
I want to focus on supplier feedback, specifically at the end of the tender process. You’ve gone to market, you’ve got a load of responses, you’ve scored them individually, you’ve moderated, you may, or may not have had a supplier beauty parade, (sorry supplier presentation), and you’re ready to award.
You go through the suppliers’ scores, and the feedback you’ve duly got from the scorers, and you write the corresponding letters to the relevant suppliers.
Public Contract Regulations (PCR) 2015 is very clear what you should include in this document. Provision 86 – Notice of decisions to award a contract or conclude a framework agreement – states:
“…a contracting authority shall send to each candidate and tenderer a notice communicating its decision to award the contract or conclude the framework agreement.
Content of notices
Where it is to be sent to a tenderer, the notice…shall include-
a) the criteria for the award of the contract;
b) the reasons for the decision, including the characteristics and relative advantages of the successful tender, the score (if any) obtained by—
(i) the tenderer which is to receive the notice; and
(ii) the tenderer—
(aa) to be awarded the contract, or
(bb) to become a party to the framework agreement…
x(c) the name of the tenderer—
(i) to be awarded the contract, or
(ii) to become a party to the framework agreement; and’
This is all very legalese and technical speak, but in reality folks, this clearly states what a buyer should provide to a supplier. I have edited this a tiny bit, and haven’t included the whole provision, but this should be the exemplar all buyers are looking to achieve. In a previous blog I spoke about agile procurement and how it is nothing new, but a standard of procurement which all professional buyers should strive to reach. This is the minimum standard when providing feedback to suppliers on how well they did. This is not something to aspire to, but something which should form part of your day to day process.
I would stress that all buyers should go one further, and this will scare a lot of them; talk through the feedback and meet (in a post-Covid world) with them.
Suppliers really do appreciate it.
In recent procurements that we have supported the British Psychological Society in, we have provided feedback to suppliers in the form of a letter, and also offered the chance to talk through the feedback. Not all suppliers took us up on that offer, but the ones which did were generally the suppliers who showed a genuine interest in the opportunity and were keen to improve.
Apart from the thanks we got, everyone one of them would say “thank you so much for doing this, we never normally get this level of feedback.” This makes me embarrassed as a member of the Procurement industry.
I just assumed (because it was instilled in me from day one) that all buying organisations give constructive feedback; simply treating others as you’d like to be treated.
It would appear not, and I have a call to action for my Procurement comrades – you should offer this.
Yes it is scary, yes it will take you out of your comfort zone, but it is the right thing to do.
It shows the value you put in a supplier relationship and it will encourage those suppliers to bid again in the future.
Now, I can hear Procurement professionals everywhere shouting, “but how can you document this?”, “what if we say something which we’re not supposed to say.” These, and others, are valid concerns and questions.
My response is for you to document everything. Make notes of the conversations. Share the truth of the reasons as to why the successful organisation got the score they got; and why the unsuccessful organisation got the score they got. Revert back to PCR and focus on the relative advantages of the successful tender. If the process has been followed correctly, and the scorers have provided pukka feedback against their scores, and you have made the relevant recording of this rationale in your moderation, then there will be no problems.
In summary, my tips to ensure supplier feedback happens and is effective are:
1) Record everything – keep records of tender submissions so you can speak to a supplier’s responses if need be
2) Feedback – ensure that all stakeholders who are scoring the submissions understand the process, understand how to score, and provide all their feedback when they provide their scores
3) Moderated feedback – when you run the moderation session to achieve a single score for each question, ensure that the reasons for that score are recorded, as this will help you with the relative advantages of the winning bid
4) Be positive and be true – there is nothing wrong, or scary even, in providing feedback to suppliers. Stick to the truth and be confident that you are providing feedback based on the process and this can only help suppliers in the future
And finally, we should all be at a stage whereby this is a standard form of the Procurement process, not something which is a surprise to suppliers and definitely not something we are striving to reach.
I will be the first to admit that it can be scary.
The first time I did it I was petrified.
But I followed the advice of this blog post, and I had support from my manager and learned colleagues.
Trust me, this will make you a better procurement professional and your suppliers will like you more.
After all, who doesn’t like to know that they are doing better?