Supplier Engagement – or, the level of commitment your suppliers have to their relationship with you – is directly affected by the investment you put into building your suppliers’ understanding of how to deliver what you want. In fact, ‘understanding’ stands alongside ‘motivation’ as one of the pillars of Supplier Engagement. So, it follows that supporting your suppliers with helpful tools and knowledge will have a direct (and positive) impact on your business. When you invest in making relevant materials accessible to them, and in taking the trouble to answer their questions comprehensively, your investment will not go unrewarded.
The Supplier Self-Help Principle
Supplier Self-Help is about giving your audience convenient 24/7 access to the information and answers they need - from training material and how-to videos, to FAQs and policy documentation.
Typically, this is delivered via a website or portal aimed specifically at suppliers. They can log on any time and search for information on all sorts of topics that are relevant to them. This not only results in happier and more efficient suppliers, but also reduces the volume of queries that your team ends up having to deal with by phone and email.
Any and every action that you need your suppliers to take can be supported and streamlined through the use of Supplier Self-Help - whether they are trying to write a gold standard product specification, or need help understanding their latest supplier scorecard.
A Worked Example
One very effective approach to Supplier Performance Management is to display information in the form of charts arranged on online dashboards – a technique known as Visual Management. Retailers use these dashboards to give suppliers visibility of their performance in key areas, and to help them identify areas where improvements need to be made.
But Visual Management dashboards only serve to tell suppliers whether or not there is a problem. To find out more, they have to make the effort to ask for further details. Unless, that is, Self-Help information is made available - to help them understand their performance scores, and to help them take appropriate action.
When working with Retailers, part of my job is to ensure that each KPI on each Visual Management dashboard is linked to an answer to the question “How do I improve this score?” This means explaining to the Supplier what the score means; in particular, how the score is derived or calculated. Ideally this also includes why the KPI matters; this helps with both understanding and motivation. This Answer then highlights to the supplier what they need to do, potentially linking to Knowledgebase Answers for more detail on how to complete the tasks (which could be further guides, videos or e-Learning material). There are many benefits to working like this but having the content available 24/7 so that the Supplier can get these answers even when you are not available has to be the biggy for me!
However, beware that Suppliers are all too keen to abandon a self-help portal or knowledgebase whether or not the layout is beautiful and enticing. The key is to anticipate the Supplier journey, making links to self-help answers as easy as possible to spot and access, and to keep knowledgebase content fresh, relevant and optimized to wow readers. This is why, in our example of Visual Management, we always have relevant links right there... right next to the dashboard, so the Supplier has answers at their fingertips.
There are a few general rules of thumb I recommend to my clients above all else when working with a Self-Help knowledgebase:
- ALWAYS continuously review and improve your knowledgebase content
- Encourage Suppliers to rate articles/answers and provide feedback to help you improve
- And, keep the Supplier’s journey in mind when writing a self-help article
Enhance your Suppliers' Experience, Improve your Performance
Supplier Self-Help systems should make the Supplier-Retailer working relationship a lot easier and more effective; allowing you, the Retailer to focus on the things that really matter. This encourages a more productive and collaborative relationship, which in turn will have a direct and positive effect on not only their performance, but also your own efficiency.