We like to compare the client-supplier relationship to a marriage. You start off with the anticipation of a lovely honeymoon with your partner during which you believe everything will work out as planned. When real life sets in, however, you may come to realize that it’s going to be more complicated. In retrospect, a deeper dive into each other’s promises and expectations would have created a better foundation for a long and happy marriage.
We’ve all been there, the finalist presentations … the slick show moderated by a confident sales person promising you the moon and the stars when addressing any of your concerns. How certain can you be that any gaps in their offering will be dealt with as stated? How do you make sure you get the full story before committing to a relationship?
Often missing in supplier evaluations is a means to assess their ability to adapt to specific client requirements. When asked to help organizations select the right service partner, we work together to fully understand the reality of what lies ahead. Using our extensive knowledge of the industry, we assess the mismatches and proposed solutions in the context of the supplier’s “pliability.”
“Pliability,” when referring to building material, is the quality of being easily bent; flexibility. With this attribute in mind, we have devised a scale with three categories of supplier “pliability”:
Glass: Cannot bend and, if you try, will break. In terms of a supplier partnership, the likelihood of meeting the requirement is considered very low to non-existent, resulting in serious damage to some part of the service model. Even one issue slotted at this level jeopardizes the bidder’s chances of being selected.
Polymer: Can bend but you must be wary of “shape memory”; it will return to its original shape when not under strain from other forces. In these cases, there is a good chance of achieving alignment with the supplier but without regular reporting and updates, there is a strong possibility that it will slide back to what is familiar. The client must evaluate whether it can live with this situation.
Wax: Fully malleable. There is a high level of confidence that the supplier will work with the client and intends to fully meet the requirements.
When reviewing the significance of mismatches with a potential supplier, we assess each one according to the pliability categories described above. The diagram below illustrates how the scale is applied, in this case, with the evaluation of a relocation management company (RMC).
Through this process, the client will understand, for example, that:
– If IT Systems is placed in the Glass category, it is because the evaluation team agrees that the supplier won’t be able to do much to change its system to meet the client’s requirements. We will have been able to advise that the supplier hasn’t been investing as much in technology as others in the industry and that it is our view that their “workarounds” will only cause more work, expense and frustration, if not worse.
– On the other hand, by placing Billing in the Polymer category, we are reasonably comfortable that with the right verification steps in place, the billing process can be adapted to the client’s needs and that some slips can be tolerated.
– By slotting the delivery service model in the Wax category, we know that the supplier is very flexible in this area and has demonstrated in other arrangements that it is very responsive to the client-specific requirements.
The pliability scale helps focus the evaluation of suppliers on the issues that will have a significant impact on the service and the program. It is also a means of being forewarned and forearmed regarding other important though less impactful gaps. The value we bring, in addition to our extensive experience in program evaluation, RFPs and process design, is our deep knowledge of the industry supplier landscape.
Although we’ve discussed supplier pliability as a selection tool, it is also effective in the evaluation of an existing partnership needing adjustment (e.g., forecasted operational changes or unsatisfactory administrative outcomes). As with any marriage, supplier partnerships are a work in progress, and Ward O’Farrell Consultants are ready to provide counsel when needed … however, we recommend it start before the honeymoon.