Blog: Supplier Speed Dating: The Reality of Today’s Vendor Management

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with long-time GAINS customer Paul Benhamou Supply Chain Director for Consumables at Benco Dental, the third-largest dental distribution company in the United States. Paul told me about his experience using GAINS for supply chain planning and his relationships with Benco’s vendors. He brought up the concept of speed dating and how given today’s supply volatility, this term may be applied to how businesses work with their suppliers; not surprisingly, I wanted to learn more and assumed you would too.

Paul first mentioned his speed dating concept during a recent Supply Chain Brief webinar about evaluating and acting on real-time data titled “How to Tackle Today’s Most Complex Inventory Challenges.”

Providing Monthly Forecasts to Vendors

One of the primary capabilities Benco is using GAINS for is Demand Planning and Forecasting. One of the key benefits that Paul’s team experiences from the solution is sharing monthly forecasts with Benco’s vendors.

“Over the last couple of years, we have worked hard at Benco to institute a process where at the beginning of each month, vendors who have signed on for it automatically get a forecast sent to them directly from GAINS. The forecast they receive has all the information a vendor might need to look at their manufacturing, fulfillment, or perhaps even labor planning for the next month. This way, our vendors clearly know Benco’s needs at the beginning of the month. We, of course, make it very clear to them upfront that it is only a forecast, not a commitment. And that due to the nature of forecasts, the closer we are to the actual day, the more accurate the forecast data will be. Sharing the data from GAINS has been a big help for our vendors, but it has also been a beneficial tool for us; many of our vendors now ask for forecasts that were not interested before.”

Relying on Strong Vendor Relationships

Benco has always had active relationships with its vendors. The company’s vendor partners are seeking customers who want to work with them and will engage in special promotions focused on their products; it has always been like that. Benco works with about 700 vendors from a supply chain standpoint, which can be a lot to manage. They’ve become more proactive about ensuring solid relationships with key vendors. After all, you can’t connect with all 700 on the phone, even monthly. But they focus on maintaining deep ties to key vendors, ensuring that they keep open lines of communication and work to understand each other’s needs. Even if the vendors can’t always deliver on those needs, Benco has set the right expectation by saying this is what’s core to our business. This is what is important to us.

“Distribution is very relationship heavy. What we have put into place over the last five or six years is developing connections and interacting with the supply chain teams at those vendors. We have always had our vendor rep, who we certainly appreciate. But now, we want to talk to the people at our vendor partners who are doing the work, not just a representative,” explained Paul.

Switching to Action-Oriented Supplier Speed Dating Meetings

“Many people deal with various vendor partners as part of their job. We have always had supplier business reviews. They are typically an hour. You go over PowerPoint slides and talk about the overall state of the business and what new products are on the roadmap. There is a very formal agenda and for the purpose of getting answers to your questions. Frankly, it can be a waste of time. So, my team adopted a process we call supplier speed dating.”

Paul and his team told all of their vendors:

“We want to meet with you for 15 minutes. We want you to have your supply chain people or whoever is on the floor manufacturing the product on the phone. We’re going to skip all the formalities; we’re not going through any slides, and we’re not going to do anything except jump right into the problems you see in the marketplace. Which products are those problems affecting, and what is the timeline to fix those problems?”

This approach has been effective. Paul calls it speed dating because he’s distilled the process down to skipping past the pleasantries and figuring out the information they need right away, and it’s getting them answers faster than ever before.

Experiencing Shorter Meetings, More Action, Less Time – and Better Results!

Paul continued, “Knowing; that we can get through three to five supplier meetings in a day has allowed us to feel like we can be more assertive when scheduling vendor meetings. Instead of saying, ‘boy, we just met with these guys six months ago, is it time for another review? Who’s going to put together the slides? Where’s all the data?’ Speed dating has allowed us to go right after the heart of the relationship and provides them with the information they need; it’s no longer just a one-sided conversation.”

“It would be presumptuous of me to say that our vendor partners have invested in their supply chain-related areas because we’ve pressed them on it. But certainly, they have gotten other people in their organizations involved because my team has been asking questions and presenting data in ways they weren’t used to before. As a result of our updated practices, we’ve seen outstanding success with some of those vendors. One vendor in particular, from a supply chain standpoint, was one of our worst and has become one of our best because we’ve opened up those lines of communication with speed dating and sharing monthly forecasts. Because of GAINS, we have the data to support our requests when we sit down with our vendors to discuss issues that arise. It’s been a powerful change that allows us to act faster to market volatility.”

If you are interested in learning more about how you use the GAINS cloud-based planning platform to make better decisions and improve your supplier collaboration, contact us, subscribe, and follow!