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 understandingtraffic 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.
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- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.