FM Frequency: Great Suppliers Can Be Excellent Business Partners
By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the August 2006 issue of Today's Facility Manager
Few facilities managers (FM) hire direct reports to handle 100% of their responsibilities. Over the years commercial, industrial, and institutional organizations have increasingly embraced the outsourcing model for several labor intensive functions including janitorial, landscaping, security, mail/copy rooms, and food service.
Everyone is familiar with the justifications for outsourcing specific facilities needs (some prefer to call it out-tasking). Expertise, convenience, efficiency, consistency, liability, training, headcount, economies of scale, and flexibility are all common reasons for adding external providers to the FM team.
So what separates great suppliers from the competition? What’s the difference between a common peddler and a great business partner? When considering current (or future) suppliers, an evaluation of the following characteristics might be helpful.
- Is this supplier a recognized leader in the industry? Or is it a “me-too” company that only adopts new technologies once they have become obsolete?
- Does the leadership team have extensive industry experience and credentials? Or are the members of the team shadowy investors with expensive suits and flashy marketing?
- Is the supplier active in supporting industry trade organizations? Or do representatives only attend meetings for peer contacts (aka cold call prospects)?
- Does the company share information about the industry’s latest trends and best practices? Or is it consumed with day to day “fire fighting” with no time for research and development?
- Is the company aware of its competitive advantages and disadvantages? Or does it just assume it’s best in class because the glossy color brochure says so?
- Will the supplier share details about similar operations and the pros/cons of various options? Or is it always satisfied with the status quo and will tell us whatever we (or the big cheeses) want to hear?
- Does this supplier approach us with solutions before we learn about problems? Or are we habitually blindsided, asking, “What the heck happened?”
- Do representatives from the company ask questions and fully understand our business challenges? Or are we constantly reminding them why certain procedures (or people) are important?
- Does our customer service representative make suggestions during the year to help reduce or control our expenses? Or does the rep just mail an annual 5% contract increase entitlement letter?
- Does the provider take initiative in communicating successes and challenges? Or does it only speak when spoken to?
- Is senior management monitoring the company’s performance and effectively managing personnel issues? Or are they out on the beach?
- Is this supplier readily available when needed? Or do we navigate through a voice mail labyrinth only to find a mailbox that is perpetually full?
- Does the vendor accept responsibility for mistakes and take steps to identify and correct the root cause of problems? Or does the rep simply say, “We’ll handle it,” only to have the same issues resurface repeatedly?
- Is the company consistently reliable in following through on commitments and making things happen? Or are we forced to check after it?
- When an issue can’t be resolved by local staff or an account manager, is it quickly escalated to senior management for prompt resolution? Or does it stall in a bureaucracy of layered management until the next crisis?
- When unanticipated needs develop, can this supplier quickly adjust staff levels and productivity? Or do surprises overwhelm the supplier’s fragile sense of balance with the universe?
- Can the company adjust staffing work hours and provide additional services outside its contract? Or do minimal changes in scope result in massive cost adjustments?
- Does the vendor bill time and materials projects fairly? Or are bonuses connected to low balling contracts and cashing in on change orders?
- Is the company open to creative or “out of the box” ideas? Or is it committed to doing business in the very “box” created seven generations ago?
- Does this supplier act with the best interest of all parties in mind (including its employees)? Or is it only concerned with short-term cash flow?
- Is it mindful of the confidential aspects of our business? Or does it share inappropriate details or trade secrets with our competitors?
- Does it expect to participate in value based procurement? Or does it assume personal gifts and favors are substitutes for fair competition?
- Does the vendor’s competition offer better service levels for the same price? Or can we spend less and get the same service level?
- Are we willing to accept lower service levels for lower pricing?
- Is this supplier earning a fair profit that motivates it to give its best efforts?
It’s really not complicated. Suppliers become great business partners by providing the highest service levels for the most competitive prices. Similar value assessments are probably conducted on our organizations more often than we know!
Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.
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