Five signs you’re being nice to suppliers

Earnsy Liu | April 13, 2021

Guess what? We googled ‘How to work with suppliers’ and got 1,260,000,000 results (21 March 2021).

1.26 billion! Working with suppliers is clearly on people’s minds. If it’s on your mind too, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll share our tips on how to work well with any supplier, and suggest helpful resources.

Different supplier relationships need different things

Much of the advice is about developing communication plans, using specialist communication tools, building trust, researching suppliers, and so on. Some advice is more suited to long-term relationships than occasional or one-off relationships.

Say you want to sign a 5-year contract for essential parts or contract a company to run your canteen. It would make sense to develop a communication plan or find out who the supplier’s investors are.

But if you just want catering for a one-off party, or to attend a workshop, or have your broken window fixed, you won’t need a communication plan or to find out who the company’s investors are.

All suppliers are human

No matter who your supplier is, whether they’re big or small, and whether they’re in London, Washington, or Wellington — one thing is key.

Remember they’re human.

Image, human sitting at a desk in front of a laptop

Remember your suppliers are human. Image by Headway / Unsplash licence

Did you think I was going to say the main thing is ‘communication’? Yes, communication is essential. But you can only communicate effectively if you remember you’re dealing with a human being.

It helps to put a face to a name. Have a kick-off meeting over a coffee, or a short video call. If that’s not possible, make a phone call.

Think of how you’d like to be treated, or how you’d like your partner, mother, or friend to be treated.

Signs that show you remember suppliers are human

You’re more likely to empathise if you remember that suppliers are human. You’ll also probably want to do the following things.

1. Be reasonable
You’ll discuss achievable deadlines and send them feedback when you say you will. You won’t cancel at the last minute. You won’t expect your supplier to work late into the evening or over the weekend unless after-hours work is part of the agreement.

2. Mind your tone
You’ll sound human and approachable rather than official and distant. For example, you’ll say ‘you’ and ‘we’, not ‘Company X’ and ‘Company Y’. You’ll say ‘please’ instead of ‘you must’. You might sign off with ‘Do ring if you have questions’ instead of ‘Please do not hesitate to contact us’.
Our Tone Matters course is packed with tips on tone

3. Be clear and transparent
You’ll make your message clear and concise, so your supplier doesn’t waste time wading through big words and non-essential information to figure out what you want. You’ll leave out phrases that don’t add value, like ‘This is to inform you that…’
Our Business Writing Essentials course teaches clear, reader-centred writing

4. Think about what your supplier needs to know
You won’t expect them to know everything. You’ll explain what they need to know about your goals, and ask what background information they need.

5. Encourage colleagues to remember suppliers are human
You might even put in a good word for them, since not everyone in the company works with suppliers. For example, people in finance may not realise a supplier works alone and needs help understanding what’s wrong with their invoice and how to fix it.

Relating as human beings is good for business

A lot of advice on working with suppliers says to build trust. Treating suppliers as human beings, using empathy and kindness, will build trust.

A good relationship might mean your supplier will go the extra mile to help you, or to find a solution to a complex problem. They might even tell their network that you’re a customer worth having!

Read how supplier relationships often fail because of a lack of trust (on the Forbes website)
Read how good communication and strong relationships are valuable (on the ISS group website)

Read more blog posts about tone
Change your tone — and change the response
Five ways to show respect with language

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.