9 signs it’s time to break up with your outsourced supplier

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It all started so sweetly – the flattering introductory email; seductive glances at the cost savings graph during the initial presentation; the chemistry during those first few weeks.

At last, is this it? The perfect outsourced supplier…?

Well, maybe not. While many supplier partnerships do stand the test of time, few are without their challenges. And like any relationship, the time spent getting to know each other and finding solutions to those challenges often results in the most rewarding partnerships.

But what if those challenges go unresolved? Has that ‘rocky patch’ become BAU?

Here are 9 signs that may tell you it’s time to break up with your outsourced supplier.

1. They still haven’t introduced you to their nearest and dearest

You can learn a lot about someone by spending time with the people who know them best.

Suppliers are no different.

Are you still waiting to speak to that ‘happy client’ they mentioned way back when? Does your supplier avoid putting clients in the same room at any cost?

Likewise, the demeanour of employees can tell you an awful lot about the enthusiasm with which they’ll be handling your account. Have you been offered the opportunity to meet the people providing the service you’re paying for (not just the account manager)?

In some cases, client or employee confidentiality is a very real concern that can limit these types of interactions, but it’s important to remember that current clients and employees offer the most accurate reflection of a company.

If your outsourced supplier is keeping you apart, you may want to ask why.

2. There are new people in their life

Ok, this isn’t always a bad thing – you don’t want to come across as the jealous type.

But a high turnover of staff, constantly changing account management personnel and a gallery of new faces in senior positions may hint at unhappy employees or a period of upheaval.

A flurry of new clients signing up to your supplier’s service – or some significant business wins – should also be closely monitored. Just because they’ve got a busier schedule, it doesn’t mean you should be the one to suffer.

Of course, neither of these things necessarily spell disaster, and may actually indicate positive change.

Regardless, a well-managed, relationship-oriented supplier won’t let either of these issues affect the service you receive – but a less accomplished outsourced supplier might leave you feeling neglected.

3. They won’t commit

Yes, we went there. The ‘C’ word.

In a supplier context, commitment can take many forms, including (but not limited to):

  • service level agreements (SLAs)
  • product or service guarantees
  • transparent or fixed pricing

It’s worth mentioning that commitment is a two-way street. So, if you’re attempting to tie your supplier to an SLA or favourable pricing structure, don’t be surprised if they ask you for detailed projections or a long-term contract in return.

But if your supplier looks at you like you’ve just insulted their mother when you ask to discuss a standard response time, it might just be time to tell them: “it’s not me, it’s you”.

4. You don’t feel appreciated

A good outsourced supplier will make you feel like their number one client during those all-important early days.

A truly great supplier will sustain this throughout your relationship.

If you’re starting to feel like ‘just another client’, it could be caused by any number of factors. (We hate to be the one to tell you, but it may be that your supplier has locked eyes with another client while you were out of the room).

As with any growing business, it’s natural that your supplier’s resources will be stretched from time to time – particularly at peak periods or during rapid expansion. Sometimes this is only a minor blip, addressed with an admission of fault, an apology and a swift restoration of service.

However, it may hint at deeper issues within your supplier’s organisation that are directly affecting your service. It may also indicate that your account has become less profitable to your supplier, and is therefore afforded less attention than it once was.

Such situations often require a frank, honest discussion – and you may both decide you need to move on to get the attention you deserve.

5. They don’t make time to see you

This could be a tell-tale obvious sign that your business relationship is heading for the rocks.

It could be that those regular face-to-face visits have dried up. Maybe you can’t remember the last time they invited you over to their place.

Perhaps your monthly calls have become the sacrificial lamb in their schedule that always seems to be rescheduled to accommodate something more important.

All of these could point to the fact that another, more profitable client has taken your place – or even that your vendor’s resources have been cut back to limit the time spent servicing clients.

The most evasive of suppliers could simply be seeking to avoid an awkward conversation.

A supplier that doesn’t make time to see its customers isn’t serious about service – or your relationship.

6. They don’t acknowledge your needs have changed

Outsourcing’s equivalent to the seven-year itch, this sign can be easily missed when your relationship has endured for an extended period of time.

Has your supplier adapted their service to reflect changes in your business?

If you’ve been working with your  supplier for a number of years, it’s likely both of your organisations will have experienced change. An effective relationship management process will ensure these changes are shared and the service you receive adapts accordingly.

Has your company grown quickly, adapted its business model or changed its operational capability since you started working with your supplier? Have they adapted (or offered to adapt) their service to reflect this?

This can work in the opposite direction too. If you know your supplier’s services have evolved but you’ve not been introduced to them, you may want to ask why.

Change is natural. But a supplier that fails to acknowledge change could become a liability.

7. You’ve started to feel like you could make it on your own

If you’ve had this feeling for a while, it’s most likely the beginning of the end for your outsourced supplier.

Why? Well, you probably outsourced in the first place to fill an important personnel or expertise gap within your organisation, or to increase operational efficiency. The decision to outsource would have been made after considerable thought and a detailed cost/benefit analysis.

If you now feel you’d be better off bringing the outsourced service in-house, it’s likely to be for one of two reasons:

  • your operational capability or business needs have changed
  • your supplier isn’t performing to your expectations

Both of these would indicate poor relationship management or a lack of proactivity from your supplier.

A great outsourced vendor should make you feel that, without them, your business would be severely disadvantaged. A poor one will make you feel like it’s holding you back.

8. They promise the world but rarely deliver

When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

For some suppliers, making appealing but unsubstantiated claims are a tactic to entice customers. We can all think of a colleague, past or present, who’s uttered the prophetic words: “we’ll worry about that later”.

A good outsourced supplier that isn’t afraid to say ‘no’, is prepared to challenge your views  will set realistic expectations. This may not sound exciting, but it’s unlikely to disappoint you either.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t demand excellence from your outsourced supplier. Asking for more can help drive your supplier to up their game – or at least be honest about their limitations.

But it’s important to remember there are plenty of other suppliers out there who don’t make promises they can’t keep, and can deliver on those they do make.

9. They don’t return your calls

If you’ve reached this stage, it’s quite likely your supplier has already broken up with you. Take a deep breath, hold your head up high and get back out there onto the procurement scene.

You were always too good for them anyway.

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