Looking back, visionary joint planning has proved elusive. Suppliers have never really committed to it because it’s never long before the customer starts demanding short-term gains and the whole thing collapses. Many want to take a longer-term collaborative view, but retailer pressure is inevitable.
We employ many ex-buyers as part of the Sentinel team. Gamekeepers turned poachers, they are perfectly qualified to teach planning, selling and negotiation. I’ve noticed they don’t really have rafts of close mates from their old supplier base. Nice people really, and I’m sure they have lots of friends, but as buyers they just kept a professional distance so that at the drop of a hat they could change the mood on the suppliers and extract some money. Dedicated factories and exclusive lines can be a millstone when this happens. So not many suppliers give true commitment, but instead stay involved on the edge. Like when you look at your bacon and egg breakfast and think ‘the hen was involved but the pig was committed’.
Still, I’ve noticed a feeling in the air of collaboration from big customers. It may be driven by underperformance of key names in the market or maybe the negative PR hitting the big baddies for bullying suppliers. The question is - will it be deep and lasting or shallow as a puddle? Whatever it is and why, seize the moment. This means building trust-sharing insight in planning that delivers category growth.
You know that a fundamental of buyer’s job is to say ‘no’ and mix up the incentives and threats to get a better deal. This default needs to be halted disarm it and raise the game. Building trust then starts by showing interest, being professional and reliable. Then layer on top a responsiveness to customers’ individual needs. But you can’t stop there: now use insight to innovate and show creativity. As you rise through this spectrum, watch carefully to see that your positivity is being reciprocated in a meaningful way. Just because you are clever it doesn’t mean your customer will collaborate. Just because you have insight it doesn’t mean your customer will integrate. But be sure that if you have neither insight nor intelligence your customer will neither collude nor collaborate.