Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 21;   May 24, 2017: Unresponsive Suppliers: II

Unresponsive Suppliers: II

by

When a project depends on external suppliers for some tasks and materials, supplier performance can affect our ability to meet deadlines. How can communication help us get what we need from unresponsive suppliers?
The Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

The Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina. Even though many glaciers have picked up their pace of late, a glacial pace is still too slow for most business applications. Photo by Bruno Camargo.

Poor communication — or no communication — is perhaps the most frustrating challenge confronting those who must work with unresponsive suppliers. We send email and get no response. We telephone, only to reach voicemail or be screened by someone who takes a message. Again, no reponse. We try calling at odd hours, hoping to catch our target unaware and unscreened, and when we do connect, we hear "I can't get that right now, but I'll get back to you." Right.

Only the supplier can control the supplier's behavior. What we control is our own behavior. Before applying other (possibly more coercive) methods of securing cooperation, ensure that your own house is in order. Here are some suggestions for encouraging cooperative behavior.

Limit the number of people empowered to contact the supplier
A single point of contact is usually enough, but if more are needed, keep the number small, and designate a principal contact. If you do have multiple contacts, don't contradict each other, do keep each other informed, and don't repeat messages to the supplier unnecessarily. To avoid turnover in the principal contact role, choose people who are unlikely to retire, or be terminated, or be reassigned. Favor people with experience in the role, and who are credible and possess a professional demeanor.
Be available and responsive
Difficulty in reaching people in your organization can elicit similar unavailability among people in the supplier organization. Be certain that the supplier can reach anyone when needed, by phone, voicemail, email, or text. Return all contact attempts promptly. Single-number unified mobile and desk-based telephone systems systems are essential.
Use the telephone
Telephone conversations are more effective than email messages, because they're more conducive to mutual understanding. Sadly, unresponsive suppliers are likely unavailable by telephone, but try anyway. Time zone differences can make telephone contact difficult, but if a live telephone conversation can resolve the problem, waking at 2 AM to make a phone call will be worthwhile.
Keep email messages short and focused
Because email Telephone conversations are more
effective than email messages,
because they're more conducive
to mutual understanding
traffic can become annoying, minimize it. Stick to one topic per message. Use a subject line that corresponds to the topic — don't recycle subject lines. Send messages only to the people who need to read them.
Limit the number and length of meetings
If supplier representatives are expected to attend face-to-face or virtual meetings, limit the length and frequency of the meetings. Conduct meetings with ruthless efficiency.
Notice early indications of unresponsiveness
If you suspect that the supplier might become unresponsive, conduct a few tests and log the results. Use this data to alert others on your team to the issue and ask them to report similar performance issues. If a problematic pattern emerges, decide what to do as a team, or solicit advice and assistance from elsewhere in your organization.

Next time we'll explore the special case of government suppliers — agencies, regulators, and others upon whom we depend for critical services. Go to top Top   First in this series  Next in this series

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

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