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Strategies for Managing Supplier Relations

10 min read

The relationship between businesses and their suppliers is more important today than ever before. Companies now rely on suppliers to fuel a global supply chain and keep their operations running smoothly. Knowing how to contact a supplier when starting your business is one thing. Maintaining a positive and effective working relationship with suppliers is another thing.

Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) is the process of building and maintaining productive supplier relations. SRM is a multifaceted process, which can involve balanced relationships with multiple suppliers.

While every supplier relationship has its own unique demands, there are strategies you can use to navigate supplier relations. Here are some tips on establishing and managing supplier relationships.

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Choosing Your Suppliers

Good supplier relations start with choosing the correct supplier for your business. You should be thorough in selecting suppliers for your company. The supplier you work with needs to be able to meet production demands, as well as meeting other standards for your business. Other factors, like manufacturing and shipping costs, are also critically important.

The simple truth is that if you select a supplier that is a poor fit for your company, your supplier relations will suffer. And this will not be the supplier’s fault. The initial responsibility of selecting your supplier is on you and your business.

Your relationship will also vary depending on the type of supplier you work with. If you start a dropshipping business, for instance, your supplier relations might be more hands-off than with a private-label manufacturer. But no matter what your business model is, your suppliers will be very important.

Supplier Relationship Management Strategies

Once you have chosen your suppliers, it’s imperative to ensure that they continue to fulfill your product demands. While suppliers do not work directly for you, they do provide an essential service for you. This presents some unique challenges, as manufacturing companies and suppliers operate according to their own company goals and procedures. However, there are several key strategies you can follow when managing supplier relationships.

Have a clearly defined supplier code of conduct

supplier code of conduct is a document that outlines the expectations and standards for your company’s suppliers. This document should provide clear guidelines for your suppliers with regards to supply chain demands as well as ethical and environmental concerns.

The supplier code of conduct acts as a contract between your company and the suppliers. You should be sure to present your code of conduct clearly to your suppliers at the outset of your relationship. Doing so ensures that they understand your needs and can be adequately prepared to meet them.

Conduct consistent supplier performance evaluations

Speaking of clear expectations, another way to manage supplier relations is to conduct periodic performance evaluations. In some contexts, performance evaluations might not seem like an intuitive way to improve relations. But, when done properly, performance evaluations are a vital part of most professional relationships. Problems arise when performance evaluations are unfair or overly critical.

Supplier performance evaluations provide an opportunity for you and your suppliers to assess needs, performance, and risks. As with your code of conduct, you should clearly communicate the expectations and criteria of your evaluations. Any concerns discovered during the evaluation should be communicated as constructive feedback.

This way, your evaluation comes across as sincere and improvement-oriented, rather than overly-critical. Suppliers will also appreciate receiving positive feedback during evaluations so that they know their hard work is appreciated.

Keep an open line of communication

Even when you are not conducting a formal evaluation, communication is important. How much you communicate with your supplier will depend on the nature of your business. But you should know the best way to get in touch with your supplier when needed, and vice versa.

Being communicative not only helps to avoid immediate problems. But, it also establishes trust and familiarity and helps build long-term stability.

Understand and evaluate supply chain risks

There is no such thing as a risk-free supplier relationship. Every supply chain faces risk, whether it’s resource shortage, shipping cost increases, or weather-related shipping delays. Ignoring or failing to understand and prepare for risk factors is detrimental to supplier relations. The key to risk management, and supplier relationship management, is to identify vulnerabilities and have a plan to address them.

Factors to consider include the supplier’s experience dealing with risks, financial stability, and production capacities. Some risks are unavoidable. But how a company responds to risks is within its control.

You should carefully monitor the risks involved in your supplier relations. Likewise, you should be assured that your supplier has the means to address any supply chain complications they might encounter.

Know the difference between value and price

One of the easiest mistakes to make in choosing a supplier is to try to save money by choosing the lowest upfront costs. This highlights the difference between the price of a service and the value of a service.

In many cases, the least expensive supplier also has the most risk involved. This might mean that shipping is slower, more expensive, or less reliable. It might also mean that the product quality is inferior to that of other suppliers.

The value of your supplier relations is about more than just upfront costs. Yes, price is an important factor. You are running a business and need to make a profit, after all. But sometimes, spending more upfront provides more value in the big picture. This might mean you choose a slightly more expensive supplier in order to receive higher-quality products.

An unreliable supply chain can quickly unravel your business, even if everything else is in good shape. In these cases, strained supplier relations are only one part of your worries.

Prioritize certain supplier relations if needed

All supplier relationships are important. But, if you have multiple suppliers for different aspects of your business, some may be more important than others.

For instance, suppose you run a cafe and bakery. Most of your business relies on selling coffee products. Therefore, your relationship with your coffee supplier likely deserves top priority. Your paper goods supplier still plays an important role, and you should by no means neglect them. But having a structure in place for various suppliers is important when it comes to managing your company’s overall supply chain needs.

Understand the importance of interpersonal skills

Finally, it is important not to overlook the soft skills that are required for supplier relationship management. While supplier relations are professional, working relationships, they still involve interpersonal communication.

What this means is that your company should have the right people in charge of supplier relations. Those responsible for managing supplier relationships should be friendly, compassionate, and strong communicators. There is a long list of crucial soft skills for SRM that can help improve your supplier relationships. Honing these skills can be a big step in the right direction toward building better supplier relations.

Supplier relationship management is one of many concerns that your business needs to balance as it grows in the modern business world. As more and more companies make global, fast-paced connections, supply chain demands become even harder to keep track of.

SRM is just one process you need to keep operations running smoothly. Other aspects you need to consider include choosing the best inventory management software for your business. To gain access to some of the most user-friendly, e-commerce software available, consider choosing Ecwid to build your online store. Ecwid is highly intuitive, flexible, and can work with just about any online retail platform.

 

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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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