Soft skills vs. Hardball: the essential skills to build successful supplier relationships

For years, driving a hard-bargain and negotiating costs were the primary skills expected from anyone with procurement or purchasing in their job title. Employee profiles, job descriptions and training programmes all centred on principals of saving a company as much money as possible, sometimes
to the detriment of a supplier relationship

“Procurement teams must go beyond the traditional cost focus and nurture so called ‘soft skills’ that enhance relationships”.

But that represents a narrow view of value creation and undersells the procurement function in the wider corporate context. With increasingly complex global supply chains, the true cost of a supplier relationship cannot be counted in cash alone. Public interest in ethical sourcing and product standards, as well as demand for rapid innovation and product development, mean procurement professionals must manage multi-faceted relationships with suppliers to mitigate risk and support innovation. All while ensuring the highest product and service standards are received.

To accomplish this new wave of expectations and advocate for procurement as a key contributor to value creation, procurement teams must go beyond the traditional cost focus and nurture the so called ‘soft skills’ that encourage closer, more collaborative relationships with suppliers and maximise value.

Soft skills

What are these soft skills? A report examining the value of soft skills to the UK economy by Development Economics, produced on behalf of McDonalds UK, lists several including:

  • Communication skills: Effective listening, effective written and oral communication,
  • Decision-making/problem solving skills: Think abstractly about problems, transfer knowledge between situations, creative and innovative solutions
  • Self-management skills: Efficient work habits, self-starting, well developed ethics and sense of loyalty
  • Teamwork skills: Productive as a team member, positive and encouraging attitude, share ideas to multiple audiences

Procurement teams would do well to incorporate soft skills like communication and teamwork into hiring selection criteria as well as developing continuing professional development (CPD) and training opportunities that equip current staff with necessary knowledge and ability to bring soft skills to the negotiating table.

SRM solutions

However, the combination of soft skills and negotiating ability are not the sole markers of successful supplier relationship management. Trust and collaboration are also dependent on transparency, accurate information and clearly defined goals and targets. That’s where Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) tools like LeanLinking can make a difference; equipping buyers and suppliers with shared, up-to-date reporting and insights into performance and quality. Sharing information in real time cuts through barriers in communication, reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding and allows for issues to be resolved as they occur, rather than months down the line.

Integrating a SRM solution into procurement operations will give staff the tools to feel confident when engaging one-on-one with suppliers and ultimately increase benefits for both businesses.

What role do soft skills play in your team? We’d love to know – leave a comment below.