Before or After
When Intesource completes sourcing events for our customers, we try to encourage them not to stray too far from the normal process they use today. We still want them to participate in collecting the information internally to ensure we are going out to market with the most up-to-date information available. That way, we do not have a “garbage-in, garbage-out” result.
When sourcing items from either new sources of supply or going out to market on a new product offering, it is very important to require the supplier community to provide samples. Every organization needs to continue to complete their due diligence no matter the approach to sourcing, and sampling a suppliers product offerings is absolutely key to a positive outcome.
Deciding when to review samples can be a bit of a balancing act. Most of our customers want to know when the bidding starts, that everyone participating can supply them the exact items being requested. This is completely understandable. However, this can also be a tall order when there are scores of suppliers for the category being bid. The last thing you want to do is impact your stakeholders’ already very busy day by having them sift through mountains of samples. We are trying to make the sourcing process easier through process and technology, not more cumbersome. So, making cuts of suppliers who do not pass the basic requirements collected through a request for information (RFI) questionnaire is a good way to start thinning the herd.
Mmm… Canned Meat
When the category has a smaller supplier community, most of our customers opt to either wait until bidding has been completed or actually review the samples during the live bidding auction. I have a customer that handles all the food items sold in their discount retail stores. Since they do not offer very many food items, the ones they do sell are pretty important to their customers. However, my and the stakeholder’s idea of what is “good tasting” canned meat are not similar; a view shared by many of his peers within their organization. This customer sets up all samples from all vendors in the conference room and tastes the various samples while the live bidding takes place and is projected on the screen overhead. It is a fun and interactive way of both sifting through the samples, as well as getting people passing buy interested in the overall process of e-Sourcing. I will choose to participate in this specific stakeholder’s approach when maybe they test/taste something a bit more appetizing then canned meat, like anything else but canned meat (except unicorn meat, of course).
Spec a Shrimp
Another example of the importance in sampling comes from a casual dining/restaurant customer. They have a chain of restaurants across the US and one of their signature items is shrimp. You would think that if this is one of you most popular items used in many of your dishes, you would have a good handle of your specification. This turns out to not be the case and they are not unique. The incumbent supplier was selling a different spec than what was on all of the customer’s specification documents. When sharing these documents with the other suppliers, they all ended up bidding the wrong items. When requested samples were based on the wrong spec, the shrimp coming into their test kitchen were not correct. This included shrimp and since the their incumbent supplier. This sourcing effort was not off to a good start.
The buying organization’s chefs, c-suite, stakeholders and I all got to find first hand that the spec was not correct. Remember what I said about cutting some suppliers prior to the sampling process? Guess what? This organization took samples from all suppliers who agreed to participate in the bidding process. Doing the math, there were 20 plus suppliers, prepared in two different dishes, with about 4 shrimp on each plate, which equals about a billion shrimp. So, maybe my math is a bit off, but I tell you that I did not want to see another shrimp for at least a year after the tasting. Additionally, while the process started out a bit rough, the final outcome ended up being a very positive experience, allowing the buying organization to achieve a better understanding of their shrimp specification. They also received a better price and a better supplier relationship.
Lock & Load or Load Locks?
If anyone can email me telling me what a load lock is, without a Google or some other web search, I will be very impressed. An e-Sourcing program manager charged with spreading the e-Sourcing process throughout her organization could not have answered this trivia question correctly and either could I. While most of our customer’s program managers have become knowledgeable in all categories sourced through them and this process, we do accept that we are not really the subject matter experts for any of them. After 12 years of working closely with dozens of organizations on categories enterprise wide, there are still items that come up that I have never heard of. Enter load locks. In this case, their internal stakeholder wanted to receive samples post bid. While the suppliers participating in the event, as well as the stakeholders knew exactly what a load lock was, it was tough to get a perspective on the item’s size item from the pictures provided to suppliers for reference. So, when the program manager had samples requested, they needed to be shipped overnight. She thought the item was small. Turns out a load lock is a securing device that spans from wall to wall in the back of a tractor/trailer to prevent the loaded items from shifting during transit, but I am sure you already knew that. A load lock is a very large item, making it very expensive to ship standard, let alone overnight. The stakeholders, as did the program manager all found this to be a very funny and ridiculous sight when she had multiple load locks taking over her office, all shipped overnight at a very high cost.
The above stories are not meant to poke fun at the program managers or how organizations request and test samples. It is only to point out that procurement is not always as straight forward as we all might think. We have to work really hard to ensure what we are asking for is what we are getting. Also, there can be fun ways to make your day-to-day a bit more interesting, as well as lessons learned that assist us in doing our jobs better.
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