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What is Supplier Relationship Management (SRM)?

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Published: Reading time: 14 min
o9 Solutions The Digital Brain Platform
o9 SolutionsThe Digital Brain Platform
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Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) is a critical component of modern supply chain operations. In today's globalized business landscape, where supply chains have become increasingly complex and interconnected, it’s essential to boost connection.

The SRM process encompasses a range of activities aimed at fostering strong, mutually beneficial relationships with suppliers. It involves everything from selecting the right suppliers, establishing a supplier strategy, and managing supplier performance to nurturing relationships with strategic suppliers.

Overall, the process is about more than just transactional exchanges; it's about creating long-term partnerships that drive value for both parties. By implementing effective SRM practices, organizations can enhance supply chain efficiency, reduce costs, mitigate risks, and ultimately, deliver superior products and services to their customers. 

In this article, we delve deeper into the key elements of supplier relationship management, including supplier strategy, performance management, and the role of strategic supplier relationships in shaping the success of an organization's supply chain.

SRM Explained

The primary objective of SRM is to create value for the organization by optimizing the way it engages with its suppliers and potential suppliers. Here's a more detailed explanation of the key components:

  • 1.

    Supplier Evaluation: Supplier relationship management assesses and evaluates suppliers' strengths and weaknesses. This involves analyzing various aspects of suppliers, such as their performance, capabilities, reliability, quality, pricing, and responsiveness. This evaluation helps supply chain managers make informed decisions about which suppliers to engage with for specific products or services.
  • 2.

    Supplier Segmentation: SRM often involves segmenting suppliers based on their capabilities and the products or services they offer. This segmentation helps organizations tailor their engagement strategies for different suppliers. For example, a supplier that excels in providing fast delivery may be preferred for certain types of orders, while a more cost-effective supplier may be chosen for other needs.
  • 3.

    Supplier Selection: Knowing which goods or services to procure from each supplier is a critical aspect of SRM. This involves aligning the strengths of each supplier with the organization's specific requirements. SRM helps in making decisions about which supplier is best suited for particular procurement needs.
  • 4.

    Adding New Suppliers: SRM also encompasses the decision-making process for adding new suppliers to the organization's supplier network. While there may be advantages to maintaining relationships with existing suppliers, there are instances where adding a new supplier can bring benefits such as access to superior products, services, or technology. The decision to add new suppliers should be based on a careful assessment of the value they can provide.
  • 5.

    Negotiation Strategies: Effective negotiation is a crucial part of SRM. Knowing when to negotiate, with which suppliers, and for what specific goals requires a strategic approach. SRM professionals must be adept at negotiation techniques and understand the organization's objectives in supplier negotiations.
  • 6.

    Relationship Termination: SRM also addresses when organizations need to sever ties with suppliers. This could be due to factors such as supplier incompatibility, declining performance, or the natural conclusion of a business relationship. SRM involves developing processes and criteria for evaluating when it is appropriate to end a supplier relationship and managing the transition to new suppliers seamlessly.

In summary, Supplier Relationship Management is a multifaceted process that focuses on optimizing interactions with suppliers to maximize value for the organization. It involves supplier evaluation, segmentation, selection, negotiation, and, when necessary, the termination of supplier relationships. By effectively managing supplier relationships, organizations can enhance their competitiveness, reduce risks, and achieve better overall supply chain performance.

Supplier Relationship Management Challenges

While SRM can bring many benefits, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. Some of the key challenges in SRM include:

Supplier Selection

Choosing the right suppliers is critical, and it can be challenging to identify suppliers who align with your organization's goals, quality standards, and pricing requirements.

Supplier Performance Monitoring 

Ensuring that suppliers meet their commitments in terms of quality, delivery times, and cost can be challenging. Tracking and measuring supplier performance accurately requires effective tools and processes.

Communication and Collaboration

Maintaining open and effective communication with suppliers is essential for successful SRM. Language barriers, time zones, and cultural differences can hinder effective collaboration.

Risk Management

Identifying and mitigating risks related to suppliers is crucial. This includes risks associated with supply disruptions, quality issues, regulatory compliance, geopolitical factors, and the financial stability of suppliers.

Data Management

Managing and analyzing a large volume of data related to supplier performance, contracts, and transactions can be overwhelming. Ensuring data accuracy and accessibility is a challenge.

Changing Business Conditions

Economic fluctuations, market changes, and unforeseen events (e.g., natural disasters, and pandemics) can impact the stability and reliability of suppliers, requiring agile responses.

Supply Chain Complexity

Supply chains are becoming increasingly complex, with global networks of suppliers. Managing multiple suppliers across different regions can be challenging.

Regulatory Compliance

Keeping up with changing regulations and ensuring that suppliers meet regulatory requirements can be a significant challenge, especially in highly regulated industries.

Cost Management

Balancing cost reduction efforts with the need for supplier quality and performance improvement is a delicate task. Overemphasis on cost-cutting can lead to supplier relationship issues.

Cultural Differences 

Working with suppliers from different cultural backgrounds can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication if not handled properly.

Technology Adoption 

Implementing and integrating SRM software and tools can be a hurdle. Ensuring that these systems are user-friendly and provide meaningful insights is important.

Supplier Resistance

Some suppliers may resist changes in processes or may be unwilling to invest in quality improvements, making it challenging to align their objectives with those of the organization.

Ethical and Sustainability Concerns

Ensuring that suppliers adhere to ethical and sustainability standards can be a challenge. This includes issues related to labor practices, environmental impact, and supply chain transparency.

Lack of Executive Support

Without top-level support and commitment to SRM initiatives, it can be challenging to implement changes and drive improvements in supplier relationships.

To address these challenges effectively, organizations need to develop comprehensive SRM strategies, invest in the right technology, build strong relationships with suppliers, and continuously monitor and adapt their approaches to changing business environments.

What is the Role of a Supplier Relationship Manager?

A supplier relationship manager is responsible for strategizing and negotiating adjustments to rates, products, services, and contract renewals. They will also handle disputes and claims, particularly in the case of extensive or high-risk agreements. This includes collaborating with internal project managers, senior managers from both within and outside the organization, legal advisors, and technical experts.

While many of these responsibilities may seem analytical in nature, there's also a crucial human element to consider and nurture. Interactions between organizations often translate into relationships between individuals within those organizations. These connections may manifest as relationships between procurement managers and sales representatives, warehouse staff and delivery personnel, legal professionals, and even CEOs, especially in smaller enterprises or significant business partnerships. 

It's important not to overly prioritize either the analytical or interpersonal aspect of supplier relationship management, as truly effective relationship managers invest effort in both dimensions.

3 Ways to Apply SRM to Sustainability

Leading procurement organizations have established robust processes and controls for overseeing the sustainability performance of their supplier networks.
Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) stands as a proven methodology for not only communicating sustainability objectives but also enhancing performance with respect to those objectives.

Successful SRM partnerships are centered on generating mutual value, which may encompass heightened sustainability, lowered risk, improved operational efficiency, optimized resource utilization, enhanced product or service quality, and access to novel insights and innovations.

Nevertheless, SRM faces its own set of challenges, including limited data visibility, insufficient key performance indicators (KPIs), inadequate reporting systems, suboptimal measurement practices, and ineffective communication channels. Overcoming these hurdles necessitates a focus on three key areas: supplier segmentation, governance models, and the formation of a dedicated steering group.

1. Supplier Segmentation

Supplier segmentation entails categorizing suppliers into distinct groups based on their impact on the business, criticality, and expenditure.

Typical segmentation categories include key suppliers, high-volume suppliers, bottleneck suppliers, and routine suppliers. This segmentation approach empowers organizations to optimize their internal and external resources more effectively.

Often, the primary focus of SRM efforts is directed toward strategic partners and key suppliers, given their substantial influence on achieving sustainability goals owing to their significant expenditure.

2. Governance Models

A governance model in SRM encompasses the structured arrangement of individuals, controls, and mechanisms. This model outlines the processes and procedures related to relationship development and issue resolution.

Governance models specify the roles of accountable parties, spanning from top management to account management and operations. They offer transparency in corporate relationships and delineate responsibilities among multiple stakeholders and levels of collaboration.

In the context of sustainability, top management sets sustainable development targets, which account managers then translate into a roadmap and performance metrics. Operations teams ensure the execution and realization of these objectives in day-to-day business operations. A governance model provides clarity regarding these roles and processes.

3. Steering Group

An SRM steering group provides a systematic approach to overseeing the partnership, decision-making, and the work conducted by others.

Steering groups comprise individuals with expertise in specific areas, aiding in making decisions that align with the best interests of both companies for mutual success.

In the context of a key supplier relationship, the steering group may include advisors specializing in sustainability, human rights, or the circular economy. This diverse expertise contributes to the enhancement of sustainability efforts and overall success.

How to Maintain Efficient Supplier Relations in 6 Steps

To develop excellent supplier relation strategies, companies need to improve and make endeavors on cross-functional requirements involved in the procurement and supplier management process. The following steps help organizations accomplish competent supplier relationships: 

Formulate comprehensive agreements 

The first step to having an efficient supplier relationship is to generate a detailed agreement. This should be designed after completing all the negotiations between the vendor and the buyer and involve extensive research on the supply market as well as the supplier.  

At this stage, both parties will raise different agendas, and consequences on the business and mutual benefit should be discussed. Everything will then be listed in the agreement including, terms and conditions of deliveries and payment, prices, description of services and timelines. A well described supplier relationship document reduces the chances of any disagreement between the suppliers and the purchaser.  

Select the optimal supplier 

After this, the suitable supplier should be selected according to the requirements of the company. The sourcing team will set an evaluation criterion, according to which all the suppliers are assessed manually or with automated tools. If the selection procedure is performed manually, then step by step the suppliers are sorted out and narrowed down to final contenders. Or else if it is observed using automated tools – eSourcing/Strategic Sourcing software, then many suppliers can be processed in a short duration. 

Leverage supplier relationship management tools 

Enterprises can make their supplier management process easier by investing in a superior Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) solution.  This presents a range of automation processes that could enhance the end-to-end supplier management processes and speed up the procedure of supplier management by automating complex and time-consuming processes like supplier onboarding, compliance verifications, performance monitoring and management, and supplier risk management.

Foster effective communication channels 

Strong communication keeps your organization and suppliers on the same path. So to enhance collaboration, enterprises can send invites to their suppliers for business and cultural events and seminars, update information about new requirements and products and can also involve them in business strategy meetings, and encourage co-innovation with suppliers. 

Exemplify a good customer   

Enterprises should maintain a record of the supplier's performance. The supplier relationship management software segments different suppliers based on how they perform – based on the quality of items/services delivered, timeliness of delivery, completeness of orders, regulatory compliance, costs, and so on.  

If a particular supplier’s performance is not as expected, then the supplier management teams need to analyze the cause behind the poor performance and take corrective measures to improve it. If a supplier has the resources and willingness to support the company in spite of their poor performance, procurement organizations can work on supplier development programs so that the suppliers can grow their capabilities to match the organization’s requirements. 

Supply management professionals can then think about how they could improve the supplier’s performance or what better supplier management strategy could have been used.

Benefits of Implementing 'Outside-in' Planning

The transformation to the outside-in mindset consists of three steps.

Step 1: Recognize the Imperative for Transformation Now

Between 2008 and 2010, the global economy weathered a significant recession. In hindsight, it's evident that a specific cluster of organizations seized this economic downturn as an opportunity, propelling themselves into an era of substantial growth in the subsequent years. These companies were well-prepared for the inevitable economic shift. When the recession struck, they had already established planning processes that offered forward-looking insights. They comprehended the crucial supply chain decisions necessary to harmonize with their future needs, rather than merely reacting to the prevailing economic landscape.

Step 2: Realign the Planning Team with Business Objectives

Today, executives and other stakeholders demand that the planning function plays a more active role in advancing overall business goals. Mere forecasting is no longer sufficient; planners must employ forecasts to chart pathways that steer the business toward its desired destination. Consider an advanced navigation system that not only maps the optimal route but also anticipates roadblocks and traffic congestion, effectively navigating around them.

Once the planning team has charted this path, the next step is to elucidate to stakeholders why this particular route is the most advantageous and why certain course corrections are essential. Some adjustments come at minimal cost, while others entail time or financial investments. Supply Chain Planning (SCP) leaders must leverage the data at their disposal to demonstrate and clarify why their chosen course will pave the way for the business's success.

Step 3: Assume the Role of Orchestrator for Success

SCP stands in a unique position to unite cross-functional stakeholders. Planning leaders execute business strategies and objectives, and, as planners, they should align the various functions toward a unified plan. As Pukkila aptly states, "The whole is more than the sum of its parts when all segments of the business move in the same direction." This is the ultimate objective of planning.

For instance, in numerous organizations, discrepancies persist between the bottom-up supply chain plan and the top-down financial plan. Such misalignment is avoidable and detrimental to the planning function because a supply chain plan that does not conform to the financial plan lacks credibility. To serve as orchestrators of success, SCP leaders must identify and bridge these gaps.

Supplier Data vs. Supplier Performance Data

Supplier data refers to the details gained about the various suppliers a company engages within its operations. This data typically encompasses vendor contact information, financial stability, product or service offerings, delivery capabilities, and historical transaction records.

Supplier performance data, on the other hand, is a subset of this information and focuses specifically on evaluating how well a supplier meets or exceeds predefined performance metrics and expectations. 

Supplier performance management is the systematic process through which organizations assess, monitor, and optimize their relationships with suppliers. It involves the continuous collection and analysis of supplier performance data to ensure that suppliers are delivering quality products or services on time and at competitive prices. Effective supplier performance management not only enhances the efficiency of supply chains but also promotes accountability and collaboration between businesses and their suppliers, ultimately driving better overall business outcomes.

What is the Difference between Supply Chain Management and Supplier Relationship Management?

The supplier relationship management process is used by supply chain professionals who regularly deal with suppliers in areas such as procurement, project management, and operations. Sometimes called supply chain relationship management, SRM is one of the many disciplines of supply chain management. 

Supply chain management, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to the end-to-end coordination and optimization of all processes and activities involved in the sourcing, procurement, production, and distribution of goods and services from suppliers to customers.

Supplier Relationship Management Best Practices by o9 Solutions

o9 is trusted by the world's leading companies. Our Supplier Collaboration software approach excels in providing businesses with actionable insights, allows easy collaboration, and leverages built-in models.

Take the first step to achieve insights into your supplier chain management. Make better decisions based on both data and research.

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About the author

o9 Solutions The Digital Brain Platform

o9 Solutions

The Digital Brain Platform

o9 Solutions is a leading AI-powered platform for integrated business planning and decision-making for the enterprise. Whether it is driving demand, aligning demand and supply, or optimizing commercial initiatives, any planning process can be made faster and smarter with o9’s AI-powered digital solutions. o9 brings together technology innovations—such as graph-based enterprise modeling, big data analytics, advanced algorithms for scenario planning, collaborative portals, easy-to-use interfaces and cloud-based delivery—into one platform.

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