Vantage Point: Should suppliers be partners?

Harris Kaplan
Harris Kaplan

Clients always say they need suppliers who can be their partners—that we need to know their business so we can deliver the most value while increasing efficacy and reducing costs. This is one of the foundational premises of preferred-provider and agency-of-record relationships. Unfortunately, this premise has a fatal flaw. And it is the root of the identity crisis confronting our industry.

The reality is, rather than providing true partners, more often than not, suppliers, squeezed for profitability, are forced to assign their less expensive and usually less experienced staff. The results frequently leave clients wanting, but powerless to change the situation. So, while the client company saves money, they may miss out on a creative and informed view of their customer that could mean the difference between success and failure for a product.

To me, this is a sad state of affairs. We are literally burning furniture to create heat. Here's what one client's marketing group does instead. It still operates within the world of procurement, but provides an opportunity for much better results. They invite many companies along with incumbents to a meeting where the client presents the current situation and goals. Then, all invitees are invited to submit proposals outlining how they can help and the client is free to decide on the merits of the approach.

Realistically, the incumbent should always be in a stronger position to win, but the process gives the client an alternative. And newer companies get the opportunity to bid in a situation that they wouldn't otherwise. It's a win-win-win. The process achieves the same financial result, provides a means to a superior outcome, and keeps all the suppliers on their toes.

Harris Kaplan is managing partner, Red Team Associates, a division of Healogix.