Product developers: Why supplier engagement matters to you

It's always a pleasure bumping into a product developer. I find their sheer, unadulterated passion for their products utterly inspiring.

They often leave me thinking that I missed my calling. After all, what could be better than devoting your professional career to seeking new and exciting products and getting to share that enjoyment with others?

I can recall one of my first visits to a retailer upon joining S4RB. I sat chatting to one of the more tenured product developers - long service badge pinned squarely to her lanyard. I was fascinated to hear about how much the world of product development has changed.

From game changers to spectators

She shared how in the ‘90s many innovations and ideas came from suppliers - a far cry from today. The rise of the super-sized supermarket towards the end of the last millennium saw entire departments spring up within retailers to satisfy the consumer’s relentless appetite for private label value and choice. In some organisations, suppliers saw themselves relegated from game changers to players, and finally to little more than spectators.

Choice and value in the Internet era

Today, supermarket retail is once more entering a new era. That age of highly successful supermarket chains with vast private label choice is giving way to the Internet era. Increasingly, consumers’ hunger for choice is being satisfied online, where even the most exacting requirements can be met in a few clicks. Customers no longer have to find all their products under one roof. They can find convenience in stores – quickly picking up the daily essentials – and almost unlimited choice online.

Recognising this shift in shopping patterns, some supermarket chains have done a particularly good job of turning the situation to their advantage. Take the recent success of the so-called ‘discounters’, such as Aldi and Lidl. By focusing on much smaller product portfolios from a smaller selection of suppliers, they have been able to develop products much more cheaply whilst maintaining high quality - passing their savings on to the customer. The result is that your basket basics are cheaper and still to the same high standard. It’s obviously working for at least one segment of today’s spoilt-for-choice consumers.

Do more with less

Many large retailers have announced significant job cuts in recent months. This is, no doubt, a symptom of the adjustments that those organisations are having to make in order to survive in this new retail world. Consumer habits have changed, and traditional retailers know they need to change too.

The challenges in retail reflected in these job cuts do not, however, mean a cut in ambition. Quite the opposite. As a product manager or product developer, you will be expected to do more with less, to find new ways of meeting consumers’ needs against a challenging backdrop. And that means we all need to become more efficient and effective.

Why supplier engagement matters to product developers

Supplier engagement refers to the level of commitment that a supplier has to your goals and values. Engaged suppliers care about the things that matter to you, and they are real team players, doing their best work for you.

By building supplier engagement levels, retailers can expect not only to cope, but to thrive through the coming years of change. Engaged suppliers can help you become more efficient, effective and able to focus on the activities that really add value.

Supplier engagement enables retailers and suppliers to achieve more – together. To get the most from each interaction. From your perspective, it can free you up from unnecessary distractions so you can focus on developing even more innovative products that your customers will love. For the supplier, it means having the information and understanding to create innovative and successful products.

Supplier engagement helps you harness the expertise and passion of your suppliers and empowers them to deliver what you need when you need it - something you can't do without in the new world of more-with-less product development.

And the good news

The good news is that building supplier engagement does not require a huge change in your existing supplier management strategy. Take your first step on the road to successful supplier engagement by reading: How to incorporate supplier engagement into your existing supplier management strategy.

Tags: Product development, Supplier engagement

David Taylor

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