Suppliers may say anything over phone, in a questionnaire or even face-to-face meetings, simply because they are eager for your business; so how can you verify key points versus your concerns more effectively?
Here are 5 ways you should know:
1. Be prepared
A well-documented key questions checklist will help you think through what’s the critical areas and reasonable weight for decision making. You’ve got the sense that there is no “perfect” supplier, still, you can align internally on key requirements to fulfill manufacturing needs, once you talk/visit suppliers with expectation, not only it sets standard for you but also gives suppliers a clear message you are serious about identifying the real status.
2. Build relationship with the supplier
You probably know people in Asia value relationships very much, so don’t rush to do facility tour or detailed questions when you meet with a supplier. Let’s warm up a little bit, gain trust firstly, and always show respect to people from all levels, you may want to start by talking about your business humbly, and motivate supplier interests to provide constructive feedback.
3. Detail and depth oriented
Ask specific questions and dig into logic behind answers. For example, if you’re worried about intellectual property (IP) protection, there are several questions you may want to apply: “How do you protect customer’s IP?”, “Do you have relevant policy, system and procedures to support IP protection?”, “May I talk to one of your engineers how he/she implements that?”, “How do you make sure my IP not be disclosed if my competitors also outsource manufacturing from your facility?”. Look at their eyes and read their faces to see how they react.
4. Cross check
Normally Sales or PM will be your main contact window, they are trained to provide well-organized info to make everything “look good”. As a customer, you may request to talk to other functional team, such as R&D, quality engineers, technicians in the lab, materials planner and absolutely suppliers’ decision maker or their executives. Ask some same questions, check documentation records from different angles, to see if answers are in consistent and what’s the risks behind.
5. Use “What…If…
This will help to anticipate risks if any issues/changes happen. “What is your policy or process if I have to cancel the order?”, “What is your resources allocation policy if I have only 5k a month and I may have more order in the 2nd year?” Especially for startups, you are thrilled to engage with a supplier who has great capabilities, but that doesn’t mean you can get what you see if you are not in their priority list.
Quite often, a very experienced PM will meet with you, later your project is assigned with a junior project engineer who is not as capable as expected. According to their internal resources allocation policy, you may have to wait for quite a long time to make production online.
Last but not least, when visiting a supplier, it’s suggested to dress in a “hands-on” style, deliver the message that you care single piece of product, and you expect supplier to treat this project professionally, too.