An idea came to me during a recent commute. With the shopping days to Christmas rapidly counting down and as we start to look forward to the season’s festivities, I thought about my son’s advent calendar and the treats he’ll find behind each door. Then I thought about a way to turn this into a productive challenge to build, reinforce and develop relationships with your technology suppliers.
Here’s my idea. There are 17 working days this December, equating to 17 doors. Behind each day’s door could be opportunity, problem resolution and innovation. The challenge is simple – to call a different technology supplier each day and have a conversation. Simple. Too simple perhaps. So there’s a beginner, intermediate and advanced challenge, depending on how comfortable with supplier engagement you are.
The easiest suppliers to speak to should be the ones you currently do business with. Call one of your current suppliers each day during December. Thank them for their help this year, tell them what they’ve done well, and how they’ve helped you and your business. Also, tell them what you’re looking forward to improving on with them in 2017.
Practically too, this is an opportunity to find out what the supplier’s business hours will be over the festive period to ensure that contact arrangements and contingency plans are in place if required. Be interested in their plans for the festive break and make sure there’s something in the diary for 2017 to continue the conversation.
The intermediate level is to call a supplier you’ve never spoken to before (but which might be relevant to your business, of course). Find out what they do and how they do it. What have been their biggest achievements this year and what do they have planned for next year? By this stage, you are likely to have either ruled them in, or out, as being interesting for the future.
If they’re of no interest, that’s fine, but maybe they have something very relevant to offer you in 2017 and they could help you. If that’s the case, book a follow-up meeting for January. And yes, public-sector friends, this is ok!
The hardest group of suppliers to call might be those that have responded to your RFx and tender processes this year but haven’t won any of your business. Or suppliers whose contracts have expired and you’ve gone your separate ways. Call one of these suppliers each day during December to thank them once more for their participation in your process or previous contracts. Find out how business has been for them this year, and whether the feedback you gave them has been useful to them and how they have developed or improved. Ask them what they are looking forward to next year and think about whether there might be an opportunity to re-engage in the future.
While an advent calendar-themed challenge is a bit of fun, I hope the benefits of this challenge are obvious. From practical information such as opening hours over Christmas through to discussing, and potentially solving, real business problems. From identifying potential innovation opportunities to just finding out what your account manager is doing for Christmas, all of these conversations could add real value to you and your organisation.
Remember, as you walk past shop windows at this time of year, that you are your own personal shop window, and you are your organisation’s shop window to its suppliers, past, present and future. These conversations will build your personal brand and your company’s brand too. You might even have a list of ideas and opportunities to look forward to on that difficult first working morning after the New Year.
Share your stories
As it’s the season for sharing, please connect with me (the usual places: LinkedIn or Twitter) and share your feedback on this challenge and on some of the conversations you’ve had. No one is going to check you’ve made 17 calls, but if everyone makes some calls, I’m sure there will be some direct value from it.
Chris Cliffe is the director of CJC Procurement.