We live in a world where customers aren’t willing to wait for their products. In the age of hyper-connectivity, customers are used to spotting an item and making a one-click-buy-now purchase. If their desired product isn’t available, they will turn to the next brand without hesitation. All the while, companies are busy trying to squeeze costs out of their partner network in the the guise of “tightening up” operations. But they are completely missing the point. Cost is not the issue. Moving products to be in the right place and the right time to avoid missed sales, is.
If companies want to survive, they must shift their focus from fighting against inefficiency to fighting for product availability. And healthy partner relationships are your first step toward this shift. External manufacturers, suppliers, and logistics carriers comprise the engine that gets the right products to the right customers; they are your operations. If you want to increase availability, it’s time you admit to yourself that your partner ecosystem is not dependent on you. You’re dependent on them.
The sooner you can accept the reality that delighting your customers is in your partners’ hands, the sooner you and your team can start to make the changes needed to drive availability and customer experience. Therefore, the most immediate and impactful change you can do for your operations is not technological; it is psychological. And once you accept this new balance of power, it will be time to make some painful adjustments that will help drive greater cooperation between you and your partners. For example:
- Admit the extent of your dependency to your partners. While letting a supplier know that they control 90% of your business is terrifying, it will be a first step in affirming their importance and finding a mutually beneficial way of working together.
- Re-run your numbers and accept areas in which you can pay a partner more fairly. Such a revelation might completely alter the way that partner, whether it be a factory, material supplier, or carrier will prioritize your products. Partners will be more willing to entertain the idea of working overtime to ensure that your customers — and by proxy, their customers — are happy.
- Share your product and regional priorities openly with your partners. You might find that while certain products need expedited delivery, others are more flexible. Sharing that with your carrier will show them that you’re not only willing to be reasonable; you trust them to do their jobs well and juggle accordingly. This level of conversation will change the way your partners see you and will make them feel like they are working with you rather than for you.
Productive operations run on tight SLAs. And tight SLAs are signed on trust and shared interest. If you want your partners to work harder, faster, and longer hours to ensure product availability, it will only happen if there is a win in it for them. Instead, today’s big brands approach their partners in what feels like one big game of Chicken; who will crack first and cave to unfair terms. If you want to be able to make and move products to customers quickly, you must facilitate and encourage transparency, and you must share the burden of your interdependent operations with your ecosystem.
This shift isn’t going to be easy; it’s going to take the utmost visceral fortitude from top leadership. Prepare to invest a lot of energy within your internal organization to drive this new mentality and make it second nature. If you’re not sure you and your team are ready to take this on or that “now is not a good time,” sleep on it. But by the time you wake up, thousands more of your customers will have already flocked to competing giants who are well-oiled and calibrated to fulfill your customers’ needs.