It’s Monday morning and I have 5 material sourcing projects laying on my desk that I need to work through before my 10 AM sales call where I need to deliver updates to the sales managers who are anxiously waiting to update their customers. 20 years ago this would sound like an impossible task, but with the improvements we've seen with internet services we now have the tools to acheive previously impossible tasks.
Whenever I begin a new material sourcing project my first step is to run through the list of existing suppliers we work with, and then very quickly begin word-smithing my material needs into the Google search box. Depending on how unique my search is I will usually receive search results that produce the big name suppliers, and it is not until several iterations of searches later that I begin to uncover some of the smaller manufacturers. Although rudimentary, this process has greatly improved from the time of only using your known network of suppliers.
Consumer Market Behavior
Compared to the consumer market, manufacturing companies trail behind drastically in the ease of searching, comparing, and sampling products digitally. In today’s digital market every customer becomes an expert in the product they are looking to buy before making the purchase. For example, I can look on any major consumer goods site and compare and filter thousands of products and read reviews without even stepping foot into a store. When I have finally selected a product I feel informed and confident that the product I am buying aligns best with my needs.
Search First, Call Last
The material sourcing process is not unlike the consumer market where buyers and R&D engineers want to efficiently search and compare multiple materials in a very concise process. When I begin a new project I implement a ‘search first, call last’ method. In this process I spend an allotted amount of time searching and comparing suppliers and products across many websites and search engines. During this research period I complete several high level searches to identify a list of potential suppliers, than I take the time to search through their website and identify if their capabilities align with the material needs.
Companies who have invested the time and resources into optimizing their websites drastically benefit from the modern ways of material sourcing. Additionally, the credibility of their capabilities rises dramatically when they have rich content on their website.
Making The Call
Prioritizing the most ideal suppliers is important when there are many products to be sourced. Engaging with a company is time consuming and can be difficult if contacts are not readily available. If I cannot find what or who I am looking for I move on, and that supplier moves to the bottom of the priority list. It is completely possible that this company has outstanding capabilities and amazing customer service, but in today’s fast paced business world no one has the time to dig that deep.
Once 2-3 high priority suppliers are identified I will make the calls to these companies. By only reaching out to a limited number of suppliers I can optimize the time spent detailing the project needs and deliverables to each company. If none of the selected suppliers are able to produce the needed product I can work through the list in descending priority to find a suitable partner.
As we move forward, more and more people are becoming accustomed to the ability to digitally complete detailed searches on products and services; It is only a matter of time before it becomes a demand of our customers in the flexible materials industry. I will frequently meet very qualified suppliers at tradeshows and inquire how they are not more visible within industry. After the exhibition I will visit their website, which will have minimal content, and understand why they were never discovered.
As more and more millennials begin to fulfill purchasing, sourcing, and product development roles it will be critical for manufacturers to invest in this new form of marketing in order to remain competitive in the market place. Many companies rely on word of mouth, but that will not allow a supplier to flourish in the same way as a targeted digital marketing plan.
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