Should Buyers Get Closer To Sellers?

I recently wrote lightheartedly about the subject of corporate entertainment and whether it should fit comfortably in modern procurement, or for that matter anywhere in supplier client relationships. As the market starts recovering and people begin to look at methods to re-acquaint themselves with business partners it may be worth some more serious thought.  [more]

I spent a lot of my career entertaining and being entertained and feel that experience with both these elements within the supply chain helped me immeasurably and fostered a good understanding of what made both 'sides' tick. In essence I found I could buy smarter by understanding and empathising with the folk across the table. As a seller it also helped me understand where the buyer was really coming from which was not always obvious in a 'hands-off' environment.

As I sit here now I wonder if such a philosophy still works in today's world. I see company policies that ban broad discussion with individual suppliers prior to tender. I often see bans on any perceived 'fraternisation,' entertainment, lunches, coffees or anything which might even give a whiff of non standardisation or risk of bias. Frankly it makes me wonder.

You see, I think both buyers and sellers are individuals and one needs understand where they are coming from. Can you trust them? Can you work with them if things go wrong? Are they empowered? Granted you can tie them in knots in the words of an RFP or contract but there will always be non obvious caveats and omissions. You also may not even be asking the right questions or know enough about their specialist business. Surely you must do everything to educate yourself about that market and the players within it but how can you do that at arms length.

I guess it may be a matter of trust or possibly lack of it. Do companies feel uncomfortable about their buyers forming professional relationships with suppliers? Are they concerned that a buyer will be influenced by a lunch, a day at Twickenham or a site visit? Even if at the end of it that person is more knowledgeable, compared notes with peers, and has a better sense of that provider's capability.

I am all for as much direct interface as possible. I know it never swayed me in my judgement and I am sure it would not influence yours. After all you might learn something important as well as possibly have a nice time doing something worthwhile. Surely there is nothing wrong in that. Is there?
This post was republished with permission from the blog of former managing director of HRG UK Mike Platt.