The recent COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on getting back to the fundamentals within the supply chain. It’s really all about agility and alignment with evolving customer demands. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial for suppliers to have the ability to respond quickly with unexpected changes in demand. There may be spikes for certain types of products and shortages with others, just as we have seen firsthand during the COVID-19 crisis.
For instance, fear-based buying left most grocery stores with continuously empty shelves. Then, these stores started limiting the amounts customers could buy on specific products to alleviate the rapid shifts in purchasing habits.
Not to mention, since restaurants had to close, consumers spent more of their time and budget preparing meals at home. As a result, suppliers had to demonstrate their ability to offer varying products quickly and accelerate the speed of shipments even while many workers were choosing to stay at home.
Then, there is the flexibility factor. As everyone sheltered-in-place, grocers were no longer battling it out for the top spot in the grocery delivery business. Consumers quickly transitioned to shopping for their groceries online rather than battling it out in crowded stores with long lines. In real time, grocers – and suppliers – had to change their business models to meet this rising demand.
As you can see, suppliers certainly have their hands full and this will continue to be the case in the foreseeable future. So what does a day in the life of a supplier look like? Keep reading to learn more.
Wear multiple hats
A supplier may be involved with the planning and management of manufacturing processes. If so, this requires a jack-of-all-trades perspective since suppliers must also be involved in marketing, prospecting, sales, negotiations, accounting, shipping, and more. Invariably, this can be tricky during a pandemic.
To illustrate, the right goods must be produced efficiently, at the quality expected, and at the right price, then shipped/distributed expeditiously. Not to mention, a supplier’s clients may have evolving needs as well. Profitability can only be attained when productivity, and efficiency, are achieved in all of the above areas.
Provide quality products
Suppliers must ensure that their products meet the standard their customers expect. Not only does this help to retain their relationships, but also helps with referrals, reviews, and word of mouth. If a supplier offers multiple products, then the job becomes even more complex.
And quality isn’t just about the end product, it starts with the production engineers as well as the planners, controllers, and supervisors who ensure quality controls are all met before final output.
A typical day
Naturally, the scope of work will depend on the product/products being offered and/or produced. To start, there may be a walk around the manufacturing plan and production areas to ensure everything is in working order. If not, the right protocols are in place to fix any issues. Pay reports may be reviewed along with sales reports.
Next, the incoming orders will be checked along with their production and distribution progress. Details such as date, quantities, time, status, and more may be cross-checked against production.
After looking at incoming orders, a production meeting may be held with all necessary team members to discuss the work for the day and to draw up a production schedule. Some of the key talking points will be around deliveries, stock, revenue, quality control, and customer service.
Once a production meeting is satisfactorily adjourned, it’s time to look at inventory and any quality issues. In between all of these activities there may be client meetings, fielding phone calls, and responding to team member inquiries. Plus, there may be training for new team members and ongoing training for everyone else.
Moreover, another walkaround may ensue. Depending on the status of production, there may be fluctuations in the urgency of customer requests – especially in the event of a pandemic. So then, delivery performance reports will also be looked at very closely. Transportation routes may be optimized Suppliers always have to be prepared to address multiple projects at one time.
Getting noticed is one of the hardest things for many businesses, including suppliers. Often, suppliers have to go well out of their way, with many potential clients asking them to register on specific vendor/supplier portals.
Once you’re in the portal, the potential client can see all of your details. There are potential customers who won’t even consider suppliers if they aren’t registered. Even if a purchasing agent wants to work with you, the head office may only allow payments to registered suppliers.
Unfortunately, registering in a portal doesn’t guarantee that potential customers will work with you. Registration is often a necessary but not sufficient requirement. Entering all of your information into a portal takes time and if you don’t hear back, it can feel like a waste of time. For this reason, some consider client-specific portals to be a black hole.
Yet to get on a single portal you may have to fill out a thorough application. In some cases, before you’re accepted you must also undergo an inspection or evaluation. Inspectors may want to examine personnel, your facilities and equipment, quality assurance measures, production, and more. And no matter how hard you work, there’s no guarantee you’ll pass.
Given that there are over 2,000 supplier portals in the United States and 3,000 globally, it’s easy to see why so many suppliers are jaded. Registering for each portal would consume a lot of labor hours. Meanwhile, companies are trying to manage social media, run adds, produce content, and drum up leads.
In terms of other marketing tactics, many suppliers send staff to trade shows and conferences. Other staff members are on the phone, cold calling leads, following up with potential customers, or trying to pin down a specific customer’s needs. And all of these campaigns generate data, which someone has to analyze. In other words, a company may lack the manpower to register in each portal.
Of course, even resource-strapped companies may try to register for portals. The question then is which portals to register for? With thousands of options, it’s smart to prioritize the ones that will lead to the most leads. There’s no easy answer. A popular portal may seem to offer the most leads but competition is high. A lesser-known portal may offer fewer leads, but also competition.
While portals present challenges, they also present opportunities for suppliers, and ease for companies looking for suppliers. A portal makes it easier for the hiring company to find and verify the right supplier. Some companies prioritize certain suppliers, such as local companies or diverse suppliers. By setting up a portal specifically for these suppliers, companies can find exactly who and what they need.
Portals may also make it easier to manage relationships. These days, suppliers, buyers, and internal users may all collaborate and interact. The right portal empowers these relationships and allows for more optimized delivery of products and services. Increasingly, systems are automated as well, sending notifications, executing calculations, and more. As such, getting noticed as a new or small supplier can feel like a full-time job.
Take away: Collaborate and learn
Another aspect of a day in the life of a supplier is finding other suppliers who can serve as partners so that everyone can be more resilient and better prepared when a crisis hits. It’s always important to collaborate with other suppliers who can share relevant knowledge and products to make up for any potential shortages. Out of the many hard lessons learned from COVID-19, the most vital ones are that agility, flexibility, and efficiency are the keys to survival.