Considering Your Supplier's Soft Skills vs Hard Skills
Sourcing products and suppliers in a growing global economy has become a highly challenging aspect of running a business. In the past, merchandisers in the sourcing department focused on hard skills such as company research, pricing, order placing, and contract completion when searching for the right manufacturer to pace their orders with. With the proliferation and availability of manufacturers and suppliers from all corners of the world, it is now becoming increasingly important to consider the soft skills a potential manufacturer possesses in order to create a successful working relationship that can help propel business forward. Let’s look at the soft versus hard skills in sourcing in today’s marketplace.
When thinking of the hard skills involved in supplier sourcing for a business, you often picture the basic steps of identifying suppliers that sell the desired products and then searching for the most economical and highest quality product to fit your company’s needs. Next comes managing the contract and placing the order. And finally, when the products arrive, the picture includes warehousing details such as coordinating distribution and monitoring when to place the next order.
Unfortunately, this image overlooks additional hard skills in sourcing that are now part of a progressive market. The capability of a supplier’s factory to produce as needed requires at least some basic awareness of engineering limits and an understanding of the products, as well as the machinery and materials used to make them. This begs for detailed investigation and verification beyond the stockroom. A good manufacturer is also aware of next-level details such as customs regulations that could impact delivery timelines and cost. These hard skills are necessary so that you can rest assured that if a problem occurs in the supply chain with your manufacturer, they are knowledgeable and equipped to tackle it from a technical standpoint.
As the demand for traditional hard skills in sourcing has grown, so has the necessity for suppliers to develop their soft skills. By cultivating a trustworthy reputation based on good communication, delivering on promises, employee satisfaction, and other overall operational management criteria, buyers can be confident that they are partnering with reliable suppliers. Some manufacturing staff are even working with their buyers to offer insights into ways of staying progressive, saving money, and conducting business smarter. Negotiation, the ability to articulate risks and benefits, and team-focused strategies are crucial here and required considerations for buyers when it comes to researching their potential product suppliers.
Perhaps the most important soft skill required in the buying department is communication. There is no business if there is no effective communication from the manufacturing department to keep the other business elements running smoothly. This means providing details about changes in the production cycle and new product launches that impact the various timelines. In addition, it includes translating details about products and suppliers into actionable steps or opportunities for strategizing beyond simple reporting. And of course, communicating regularly and concisely with the various company entities that are part of the product chain, such as the transportation, marketing, and legal departments, is also crucial.
Clearly, the role of product supplier has increased in significance and now includes a balanced set of qualities required for maximum efficacy and success. The bottom line is that it’s no longer the search for just hard, technical skills or reliable soft skills that matters when it comes to finding a good product supplier. It is now a sourcing journey for all-round suppliers in global sourcing.