Posts in Supply Management

Sourcing Complex Professional Services in a Competitive Supply Chain

 

A Review of GlaxoSmithKline Case Study  

Quality is one of the most important factors for companies in the relationship between suppliers and customers (Ackerman, 2007). It requires integration of processes and data harmonization in a complex, global environment. Critical processes and strong relationships develop mutually beneficial outcomes, trust, strength and competitive advantage. We live in a time where globalization has forced industries to adopt cost efficiency strategies in order to compete. Top-line spend is being scrutinized and the legal industry is no exception to the new normal. In 2012, more than 25% of companies in the U.S. and UK spent over $5 million annually on litigation costs, and among healthcare companies that proportion was estimated to be 30%–40% (Gardner, H., & Silverstein, 2016).

Because professional services have become such a prominent cost of business, executive leadership has pressured the supply chain function to enhance the efficiency of spending. Professional services like legal counsel have historically been defined as too complex to transition to alternative billing arrangements that were ordinarily reserved for predictable, simple items. Complex legal services hinge on quality and explicit expertise that are determined on a case-by-case basis.

This case study examines an organization’s process for introducing competition and alternative billing arrangements for complex professional services using innovative sourcing techniques and Six Sigma methodology to monitor and control performance.  The goal of this analysis is to: 1) evaluate alternative sourcing and the utilization of reverse auctions, 2) examine the successes and gaps of the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) sourcing and procurement model for legal services, 3) determine if the GSK model can be applied towards other complex services, and 4) recommend improvements using the case study of GlaxoSmithKline: Sourcing Complex Professional Services (Gardner, H., & Silverstein, 2016).

Situation Audit

In recent years, the legal industry has experienced a global paradigm shift in the delivery model for legal services (Kane, 2017). This includes a consolidation among law firms, change in size, culture, and regulatory policies that encourage more competition and new entrants. While legal expertise is a necessary expense of organizations, it is historically viewed as a cost center. The 2008 economic downturn created additional competition among law firms as pressure to reduce costs increased and inadvertently diminished client loyalty. As described in the business case, “the size of the legal services market in the U.S. had increased by 4%–5% annually in the years preceding the economic crisis, it contracted by 3% in 2009” (Gardner & Silverstein, 2016).

In September 2008, the GSK law department appointed a new General Counsel who was a proponent of change and believed that the hourly-rate billing system inherently promotes inefficiency. His goal was simple: to reduce costs while increasing quality and value creation. The department’s focus scaled to include a Global External Legal Relations Team (GELRT) and an Outside Counsel Selection Initiative (OCSI). GELRT moved over three-fifths of outside counsel assignment to value-based fees (VBF) which is an incentive based payment structure that encourages integrity and six sigma efficiency in billing monitored and controlled through defined KPIs. Within 2 years it achieved a savings of nine figures (Silverstein, 2014). The over-arching message was that “if firms are willing to put some ‘skin in the game’ to help us meet cost savings goals” they should be rewarded with the value they provide to GSK (Salopek, 2012).

The focus of OCSI was to leverage best practice in e-Sourcing and Procurement using an e-reverse auction program. Based on case-specific criteria, GSK uses a mini-RFI tool that allows it to view an outside firm’s qualifications for the intended case. GSK Legal can then aggregate KPIs to ascertain the firms’ quality as well as their ability to adhere to VBFs. Additionally, the OCSI reverse auction process or “Sourcing Room,” attempts to neutralize aggressive fee competition among the qualified law firms by elevating value creation and fit per case assignment (Salopek, 2012).

In the context of this analysis, GSK has been served with a complaint wherein “A patient, Catherine Whitmore, died of an aortic aneurysm while on our blood pressure medication,” and the responsive pleading is due in just 20 days; an extension allowing more time to prepare a response is unlikely (Gardner & Silverstein, 2016).  A recently hired attorney must act quickly and within the defined processes adopted by GSK including preparing for a reverse online-auction as part of the OCSI process. Throughout the case and while awaiting responses from the “Sourcing Room”, she questions the purpose, process, integrity, and intended outcomes of GSK’s way of working:

“This system reminds me of buying office supplies or landscaping services. Can it really be applied to a complex legal case like this one? Why can’t we just engage the same firm that we worked with last time? Why would this new system encourage firms to use their best lawyers and ask for less? How could law firms suddenly afford to devote more work from their top brass for less money? Where would all of these savings come from? Even if the reverse-auction system saves money, we are paying it back in increased risk as we sit on our hands and watch our response date inch closer. I thought I’d return as the hero who doles out work, not the villain who pushed the legal industry into online bidding wars.”

Problem Identification

The fundamental questions that must be answered are: 1) does the reverse auction system reduce costs while ensuring quality,  2) what are the risks in using reverse auctions for sourcing and procuring professional services, and 3) can reverse auctions be applied to complex legal cases and yield successful outcomes? To better understand the framework of reverse auctions, the impact of compensation models on cost savings will be examined. This includes the impact on supplier relationships and how GSK’s processes may be applied to other complex services.

Alternatives

  1. Competitive Pressure

The legal industry presents complexities in procurement requiring sophisticated coordination of suppliers based on specialized criteria. Competitive pressures are forcing traditional law firms and corporate legal departments to minimize costs, increase flexibility and expand their in-house capabilities. Participation in legal process outsourcing (LPO) has become vital to controlling costs (Kane, 2017). It transfers the work of attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals to external suppliers, both onshore and offshore. Therefore, “supplier and customer relationship management processes can enhance or inhibit competition” (Sadikoglu, 2014). Using a more agile e-sourcing and procurement strategy, GSK has achieved price advantages by leveraging a Six Sigma approach to managing costs and quality, and using alternative fee agreements, reverse auctions, and VBF to form value-add partnerships. Within lean constraints and a “buyers market”, GSK must quickly respond to changing market needs with no room for error. Overall efficiency increases because “each firm in the supply chain can maximize its competitive advantage through strategically focused resource allocation” (Christopher, 2011). Lastly, competitive pressure introduces a need for increased awareness and intelligent, real-time information flow.

  1. Operational Pressure

The aforementioned process coordination of procuring firms with highly specialized areas of expertise adds a layer of complexity that makes quality and cost control more difficult. In a time-sensitive environment, using a reverse auction process may contradict the need for greater speed and efficiency. GSK must support powerful mobile devices, software-as-a service, and secure, web-based technology to facilitate its way of working and global infrastructure. Advanced communication solutions that align with the “virtual firm” are becoming increasingly necessary in the legal market (Gehrke, 2007). The efficiency of process management emphasizes activities not results, where “proactive approaches to quality management to reduce variations in the process and improve the quality of the product” comes with a cost (Littlefield, 2012). Balancing the costs of operational efficiency can create pressures for GSK in obtaining quality legal services.

  1. Financial Pressure

The stability of the Pharmaceutical Industry and Financial Institutions can affect the financial health of GSK and its supply chain. Competing in a global environment has forced many companies to closely monitor their suppliers’ economic viability (Littlefield, 2012). GSK depends on timely responsiveness and counsel from suppliers. If in the event firm deadlines are missed due to disruption, GSK is left vulnerable.

Additionally, GSK faces pressure not only to reduce costs, but it must transform the perception of a corporate legal department from a cost center to value-add activity. As the cost of legal services continues to rise, GSK faces pressure to innovate legal delivery models, while closely monitoring their efficiency.  Utilizing e-sourcing and reverse auction techniques can provide “higher cost efficiency, larger scale, and possibly lower financial costs such as borrowing costs and tax rates” (Fishell, 2012). However, setup and ongoing costs, any skilled labor costs, and the total costs of quality and risks should be considered, which may increase GSK’s total costs for legal services.

  1. Regulatory & Ethical Pressures

“Domestic law firms are expanding across borders, collaborating with foreign counsel and forming intercontinental mergers, erasing traditional boundaries on the geographic scope of law practice” (Kane, 2017). Technology and globalization are disrupting the speed at which automation of legal processes and emerging e-sourcing and procurement tools are being adopted to remain competitive.  This exposes GSK to a broader Regulation of the Pharmaceutical Industry and legal sector, including quality and safety, ultimately increasing pressure for the company. As referenced in the case, “new governmental policies favoring deregulation and liberalization, such as the Legal Services Act 2007 in the UK, encouraged more competition in the legal market and provided a new route for consumer complaints about lawyers” (Gardner & Silverstein, 2016). GSK faces ethical pressure by engaging in foreign territories with suppliers that may have differing business practices. Moreover, GSK must have full-disclosure of possible defects in its products, some of which may be unknown at the time of release. The catalyst for the complaint in this case is the possibility that a GSK product contributed or caused a patient’s death. While GSK can use legal contracts to try and shield itself from any financial liability due to product implied guarantees or misuse, it still has a regulatory and ethical obligation to ensure product conformance to protect human life including all costs associated with auditing, monitoring, and ensuring product quality compliance

Critical Issues

A critical component of GSK’s success not only lies in its processes and use of DMAIC, but in its creation of a framework in which institutional change can thrive. This takes leadership, vision, structure, and engagement. Despite the assurance from GSK staff that the OCSI approach drives down costs and improves the quality of work by systematically increasing the rigor in the procurement process, the new attorney insisted on analyzing and comparing the competing firms’ bids. Her uncertainty speaks to the critical issues in this case: 1) organizational leadership in institutional change, 2) the utilization of reverse auctions in complex services, and 3) qualitative analysis of cost savings, supplier value, and risks.

Leadership is a critical component of Sourcing & Procurement because it influences, directs, and manages the resources of a supply chain, ultimately impacting a firm’s profitability. The problem for many organizations is that procurement is often perceived as a tactical function rather than a strategic function. For example, even in the P2P process, procurement professionals begin sourcing after a need has been identified. As quoted by GSK’s new General Counsel in 2008, “Before I came to GSK, legal spend had not been managed centrally, and individual lawyers responsible for the matters often didn’t have budgets. The firms often knew more about what GSK spent with them than GSK knew about what it spent at the firms, so GSK was not leveraging its spending power” (Gardner & Silverstein, 2016).  The transformation of how professional services were managed involved detailed planning and managing through process and KPIs. Resistance to change can make it difficult for organizations to adopt new strategies such as redesigning work processes, adopting new organizational reporting structures or establishing new pricing strategies. In addition, many firms are set in the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality that inhibits creative alternatives to procuring professional services.

Analysis

In the context of sourcing and procuring professional services, the GSK model for strategic action and leadership involved promoting a vision, setting strategies, defining goals, providing direction, and adopting a Six Sigma approach to performance management. A scorecard was thoughtfully crafted for each matter, weighting key firm selection factors including matter-specific credentials, experience in jurisdiction, along with pricing (Salopek, 2012). GSK’s e-reverse auctions involve a competitive bidding process where multiple law firms compete for the same project. This can drive price competition for large-scale legal projects such as mergers and tax filings. While there are risks of collusion and price tampering amongst competing firms, the over-arching mantra is that if the prices are expected to be lower, then firms “need to be increasingly savvy with their resources in order to compete” (Clarke, 2015). GSK viewed reverse auctions as an opportunity to create value and govern productive partnerships, not focus just on price which is seldom representative of total cost. The lowest bid was not always selected (Salopek, 2012).

e-Reverse auctions can be used to source and procure any complex professional service. It takes leadership (aforementioned), framework and process, and robust analytics. Using the GSK model, the RFI tool provided conditions around expertise and quality performance, where suppliers derived clear scope to propose solutions to an expected and known end result. When coupled with performance measures to help drive delivery value, satisfaction, and opportunities for improvement, these internal control mechanisms – by design- minimized mistakes, promoted sound decision making backed by data, and rewarded good performance both within and outside the organization (C.I.P.S., 2017).

By the end of 2011, more than 68 percent of GSK’s external spend was through VBFs, resulting in major savings. “One reason for this success was Dan Troy’s <new General Counsel> tone from the top,” (Salopek, 2012). He backed his VBF directive by connecting the annual bonus objectives of law department personnel to GELRT’s quantifiable cost savings. He also participated in global broadcasts to the Law Department communicating progress toward goals. This level of engagement was crucial to OCSI’s success, where the willing participation of all parties was needed in the e-reverse auction process. Since its launch, 57 OCSI events have been completed to date, resulting in total estimated savings of over $32.6 million when the winning firm’s budget (based on hourly rates) is compared to its final VBF offer, and over $21 million in savings when the winning firm’s initial VBF offer in the Sourcing Room is compared to its final VBF offer. These savings are a subset of overall, even more substantial VBF savings” (Salopek, 2012).

While the qualitative analysis of cost savings appears favorable, one must consider the supplier value and risks in using reverse auctions. The two most commonly voiced criticisms directed against reverse auctions are that they do not support strategic goals and do not encourage long-term supplier engagement.  In fact, many might argue that suppliers do not like them. Typically, reverse auctions are designed for routine or predictable purchases that “feature little collaboration, shorter term contracts, products with common specifications and little complexity, and purchases where there are savings opportunities” (Gehrke, 2007). Some view reverse auctions as transactional in nature and, contrary to GSK’s mindset, highly focused on obtaining favorable pricing where “strategic relationships with suppliers rarely meet these criteria” (Clarke, 2015). However, at some point, particularly in the search for specific know-how and execution, price will cluster and a baseline will emerge. If consistent pricing at market-value is assumed, I’d offer that reverse auctions are the perfect forum to steer focus toward expertise and value-add services. This would, for all intents and purposes, be the perfect marriage for e-sourcing complex services.

Recommendations

This case illustrates a deep-seated challenge for procurement departments: how to strike the subtle balance between quality, cost and managing complexity. GSK considered new ways to generate efficiency by integrating leadership, DfSS processes and rigorous control systems, and by improving the way it leads interaction with global suppliers and trading partners. GSK’s integrated processes ensure quality specifications are met on a per-case basis. With active management, it can assume best practice processes and guarantee a process control system (measure, analyze, improve, monitor, control) and favorable outcomes based on a proven track-record.

Communication and connectivity are a vital component of its strategy. A challenge specific to GSK’s legal department is to maintain its success through the necessary conduit of infrastructure…SRM, CRM, voice, data centers, and connectivity. Before GSK makes this investment, I’d recommend prioritizing where the highest percentage of interaction takes place and where a solution can have impact across multiple areas (cost savings, revenue growth, and increased productivity). For example, GSK can consume communications services on a utility pricing model or proven lower TCO with leasing, deferring a pricey capital investment. This would provide scalability and faster expansion of infrastructure as needed and give GSK advanced communication technology to sustain competitiveness.

GSK leadership should continue to support initiatives with its suppliers that promote teamwork, close internal communication, and developing a cooperative culture that fosters trust and collaboration. As supply chain complexity and off-shore outsourcing continues to increase, the need for visibility will require even more enhanced collaboration and real-time data to measure GSK’s performance. This may be difficult for GSK to achieve because relationships, particularly across global and cultural boundaries, are the most difficult to manage (Fishell, 2012).

Lastly, I’d recommend GSK scale its methodology for all professional services. It should continue to embody procurement best practice as described by the Chartered Institute for Purchasing & Supply where, “The supplier-buyer relationship between supply chain members requires that quality start at the top. That is, it is imperative that company visions, goals and strategies be aligned for the betterment of both companies. Joint projects, shared technology, buyer-supplier councils, and collaborative relationships can enhance the relationship. The end result is a culture of continuous improvement throughout the supply chain, and as a result, a highly effective, competitive one.” (C.I.P.S., 2007)

Conclusion

The sourcing and procurement of complex professional services continues to be an on-going area of development for many organizations. Evolving market demands, the shifting legal marketplace, deregulation, and cost reduction are all contributing to the need for innovative solutions in a digitized world. With increased competition across the legal landscape, utilizing e-reverse auctions is a way to achieve cost savings, but not at the expense of service and value differentiation.  In this fair forum, clients like GSK are empowered with the pricing of legal matters, where previously these decisions were dictated by law firms. Just like globalization of other goods and services, “a ‘buyer’s market’ for legal services is bringing increasing demands from clients,” and forcing the legal firms to evolve into a “more nimble, leaner competitors with greater pressures for efficiency” (Abbott, 2016).

 

References

Abbott, M. (2016, January). Georgetown Law Review: 2016 Report on the State of the Legal Market. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from h https://www.law.georgetown.edu/news/2016-report-on-state-legal-market.cfm

Ackerman, K. (2007).  Relationships for Supply Chain Success. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://www.supplychainquarterly.com/topics/Strategy/scq200704book/

Christopher, M. (2011).  Logistics and Supply Chain Management, 4th Edition. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Clarke, P. (2015, June). Reverse Auctions are Here to Stay for Law Firms. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http http://blogs.findlaw.com/strategist/2015/06/how-to-deal-with-a-competitive-bidding-process.html

Fishell, J. (2012, May 31). Maintain Quality in a Complex Supply Chain With Better Information Management. Retrieved April 22, 2017, from http://www.supplychainbrain.com/content/general-scm/sc-analysis-consulting/single-article-page/article/maintain-quality-in-a-complex-supply-chain-with-better-information-management/

Gardner, H., & Silverstein, S. (2016). GlaxoSmithKline: Sourcing Complex Professional Services. Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School. 9-414-003.

Gehrke, A. (2007, January). Reverse Auctions: Crusade or Curse? Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://www.appliedclinicaltrialsonline.com/reverse-auctions-crusade-or-curse

Ideson, P. (2016, May). Crack the Code to the Successful Procurement of Legal Services, with Silvia Hodges Silverstein. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://artofprocurement.com/legalservices/

Kane, S. (2017, April). 10 Trends Reshaping the Legal Industry. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://www.thebalance.com/trends-reshaping-legal-industry-2164337

Littlefield, M. (2012, April). Supplier Quality Management: A Risk Based Approach. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://blog.lnsresearch.com/bid/136869/Supplier-Quality-Management-A-Risk-Based-Approach

Sadikoglu,  E.  (2014). The Effects of Total Quality Management Practices on Performance and the Reasons of the Barriers to TQM Practices. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ads/2014/537605/

Salopek, J. (2012). ACC Value Challenge: Committed Leadership Combined With Technical Innovation. Retrieved April 22, 2017, from https://www.acc.com/valuechallenge/valuechamps/2012champ_profile61.cfm

Silverstein, S. (2014, May). Buyers, Influencers, and Gatekeepers. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from http://www.silviahodges.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/2014-NYLJ-Legal-Procurement-.pdf

The Chartered Institute for Purchasing and Supply (2007). Contract Mangement Guide. Retrieved April 22, 2017, from https://www.cips.org/documents/CIPS_KI_Contract%20Management%20Guidev2.pdf

 

 

 

How to Negotiate with Powerful Suppliers 

 

Sharing insights from Prashant Dedhia who describes how to navigate in supplier relationship management in a global landscape.

Source: How to Negotiate with Powerful Suppliers in Procurement and Supply Chain

Authored by | Prashant Dedhia
In many industries, the balance of power has dramatically shifted from buyers to suppliers. A classic example comes from the railway industry. In 1900 North America had 35 suppliers of cast rail wheels; railway builders could pick and choose among them. A century later no one looking to build a railroad had this luxury, as only two suppliers remained. Today there is just one, which means that railroad builders have no choice but to accept the supplier’s price.

The shift has come about for various reasons, any or all of which may be in play in a given industry. In some cases, suppliers have eliminated their competitors by driving down costs or developing disruptive technologies. In others, fast-growing demand for inputs has outstripped supply to such a degree that suppliers have been able to charge what they want. In still others, buyers have consolidated demand and forced suppliers’ prices down so far that many suppliers exited the market, giving the remaining few more clout.

Whatever the reason, companies that have gotten into a weak position with suppliers need to approach the situation strategically. They can no longer rely on hard negotiations through their procurement offices. To help with the strategic reappraisal, we’ve developed an analytic framework with four steps, in order of ascending risk. Companies should start by assessing whether they could help the supplier realize value in other contexts. If not, they should consider whether they could change how they buy. They should then look at either acquiring an existing supplier or creating a new one. If all else fails, they must consider playing hardball, which can have a lasting impact on the relationship and is the last resort.

Let’s look at each step in detail.

#1 Bring New Value to Your Supplier

This is the easiest way to redefine your relationship with a powerful supplier. It can rebalance the power equation and turn a purely commercial transaction into a strategic partnership. You can provide new value in several ways. For example:

Be a gateway to new markets.

The quickest and least expensive way to redress a power imbalance is to offer the supplier a market opportunity that is too good to pass up in exchange for price concessions. Finding the right carrot can take some digging. Here’s a case in point: A beverage company was facing annual price hikes from a beverage packaging supplier. It seemed to have no way out; the supplier had patented its manufacturing process, and its pricing was lower than that of other sources.

But as it happened, the buyer was about to enter two large developing markets in which the supplier had tried but failed to gain traction. The procurement manager realized that the company could give the supplier’s products a foothold in those markets. She and her team put their heads together with the marketing team and presented the supplier with an offer that was hard to refuse: In exchange for a 10% price reduction globally, the company would use the supplier’s cans in the new markets.

Reduce the supplier’s risks.

If a company is well placed to help a supplier reduce its price risks, it can demand some concessions in return. For instance, a large chemical company was working with a single, recalcitrant supplier. To produce titanium dioxide it required feedstock manufactured to tight specifications, and only that supplier could meet its needs. When the chemical company tried to increase its order, the supplier claimed to have limited capacity and demanded a price premium.

Given the cyclical nature of the industry, the company surmised that the supplier would jump at the chance to lock in a long-term contract—a commitment other customers lacked the financial strength to make. Procurement worked closely with a team from finance, which created detailed models to determine a price range that would let the supplier generate returns of 15% on invested capital. The supplier agreed to a multiyear contract with prices that would not fluctuate more than 10% annually, and the chemical company got a 10% discount from the original quote.

#2 Change How You Buy

If no opportunities exist to help the supplier create new value, your next best alternative is to change your pattern of demand. Because this strategy can have implications for other parts of your organization, it requires close collaboration with any functions that could be affected. A company can change its demand patterns in three ways, all of which may require intensive data collection and analysis.

Consolidate purchase orders.

This is the least-risky option and the easiest one to implement. It may involve little more than acting on an internal audit of procurement data.

At one aircraft manufacturer, various business units were independently purchasing components from a large supplier, which was doubling or tripling the prices it had originally quoted. The supplier was reaping gross margins of about 20%, whereas the aircraft manufacturers were only 10%. And deliveries were unreliable, which drove up the manufacturer’s overall costs. Individually the business units lacked the power to force a change in behavior. But the unit CEOs got together, consolidated their spending data, and went to the supplier’s top executive with a threat to suspend all purchases unless changes were made. The supplier became far more responsive, cutting prices so that its margins were also about 10% and improving the timeliness of deliveries. Small companies that don’t order through multiple units can form purchase consortiums with other firms in their industry. In 2008 an oligopoly of four suppliers controlled the ATM market in one European country. To counterbalance the group’s power, four banks created a purchasing consortium for ATM parts and maintenance, ultimately cutting their ATM costs by 25%. To succeed, consortiums must align their members’ interests and have the right governance in place. To avoid raising antitrust issues, they should not be too powerful themselves, which means that this approach is best suited to relatively fragmented, competitive industries.

Rethink purchasing bundles.

If a company cannot create large purchasing bundles within product categories or geographies, it should consider purchasing across them. One telecom company dealing with a powerful supplier for a particular component gained price concessions by pointing out that it also bought other components from that supplier—ones it could easily obtain elsewhere. Similarly, a global chemical manufacturer accustomed to buying a key ingredient from two suppliers, one in the United States and one in Europe (and each with a monopoly in its region), announced that it was considering consolidating to a single supplier and began a qualification process to choose which one. By awarding a single global contract, it would have given the winner a toehold in the loser’s monopoly territory. Faced with the threat of competition, each supplier agreed to a 10% discount. At other times the right strategy is to pick apart your existing bundles; this may enable you to create competition among suppliers where none previously existed. When a consumer goods company decided to renegotiate its contract with a powerful information provider that offered an integrated global product and services package, the procurement team quickly realized that it needed to differentiate between data (for which the supplier held a monopoly in some geographies) and analytic services (for which the market was generally competitive). It also decided to negotiate at a country level—enabling suppliers that could cover some but not all geographies to participate. As a result, it obtained savings of 10% on data and 20% on analytics.

Decrease purchase volume.

The third way to alter demand is to shift volume away from a powerful supplier, ideally by switching to a substitute or lower-cost product. The mere threat of this can increase the supplier’s openness to negotiation—but the buyer’s organization needs to stand behind its negotiation team and be willing to revisit what it purchases. Determined to reduce IT costs, one retailer we advised determined that most of its staff members did not need to create documents—they needed only to read them. It was able to eliminate 75% of its office software licenses, replacing them with a lower-cost, read-only alternative.

#3 Create a New Supplier

If options for changing your company’s demand profile aren’t available, you should next explore creating a completely new supply source. Like the first two strategies, this ultimately shifts demand away from powerful suppliers, but it tackles the other side of the equation. It is most likely to be necessary for industries where price negotiations have gone so far as to drive most suppliers out of business, effectively giving the survivors a monopoly. Of course, such drastic action risks alienating your supplier completely and may change your company’s business model. It will also alter the competitive dynamics and perhaps even the structure of your supplier’s industry and your own. For these reasons, it is a risky proposition, but if well executed, it can transform your prospects. There are essentially two options:

Bring in a supplier from an adjacent market.

The easiest way to create a new supplier is to bring in a competitor from an adjacent geography or industry, one that might not otherwise have entered the market. One major airline reduced its food costs and improved quality by enticing a European catering company to enter the U.S. airline-catering market, which had been controlled by two well-entrenched suppliers that were reluctant to lower prices. The new entrant had an innovative, off-premises production model that enabled it to offer higher-quality food at significantly lower prices in exchange for longer-term contracts.

Because the airline would need to give the new supplier a multiyear agreement, the procurement team shared its plans with the airline’s chief operating officer, its head of airport operations, and its head of catering. After aligning these key functions on the strategy, the airline announced that it had awarded its contract at a major U.S. hub to the new entrant. After losing that share of business, one of the established suppliers replaced its management team and took a more collaborative approach with the airline.

Vertically integrate.

If no plausible new suppliers are to hand, consider making yourself the new supplier by investing in the requisite assets and capabilities, possibly in a strategic partnership or joint venture with a company that has some of those assets and capabilities. If you’re lucky, a credible threat to take this action will be sufficient to shift the balance of power, as was the case with a paper company that relied on a regulated utility for electricity.

Unable to secure a better rate from the utility, the company began planning to build its own power plant—and it made sure the utility knew about its plans. It spent nine months finding a location, securing pipeline capacity, getting permits, and partnering with a dryer company that wanted to use the steam that the plant would generate. The strategy worked—the utility agreed to reduce its rates by 40% to prevent the company from building the plant. The danger with this approach, of course, is that your threat to vertically integrate may be called. So before embarking on this option, make sure that the new venture could deliver value that exceeds the investment costs and compensates for the added management attention and the hidden risks and challenges that might arise.

#4 Play Hardball

If everything else fails, canceling all your orders, excluding the supplier from future business, or threatening litigation—or some combination of those actions—may be the only answer, short of going out of business. These are truly tactics of last resort.

A global financial services firm had its back against the wall because it had to reduce costs by $3 billion. To cut IT infrastructure costs, it asked its major hardware supplier for a 10% price decrease. When the supplier refused, the firm’s chief information officer contacted the supplier’s CEO to say that all the supplier’s projects in the company were suspended, effective immediately. Within an hour the supplier was deactivated in the payment system, and the procurement, IT, and development teams were notified that they were no longer to work with it. Faced with the costly loss of existing and upcoming projects, the supplier quickly agreed to the price cut.

Then there’s litigation. In the early 2000s a security company that provided cash transportation services to banks decided to increase its rates by 40%. Because it controlled 70% of the market, its customers had few alternatives. But one bank that faced significant margin pressures wasn’t ready to accept the price hike. To better understand what was driving the increase, it asked to review the security company’s financial statements, which revealed only a 10% cost increase—nothing that would justify the drastic hike.

If all else fails, canceling your orders, suspending future business, or threatening litigation may be the only answer.

The bank took a two-pronged approach. Its chief operating officer met with the COO of the security company to explain that the increase was unacceptable and would undermine their relationship. And the procurement team threatened to join forces with other financial institutions and bring the matter to the attention of the national authorities in charge of restricting monopolies. The security company backed down and instituted a price increase more in line with its cost increase.

As we’ve shown, companies negotiating with powerful suppliers have plenty of ways to redefine the relationship. Whichever option they choose, they need a clear understanding of the problem, an ability to work on it across functions, a willingness to think outside the box, and strong analytical capabilities that can reveal the enterprisewide picture and generate useful insights. It’s also important that senior executives commit to strategic rather than tactical moves. With these elements in place, what had seemed an impossible negotiating task becomes one that is merely challenging.

Author Credit: Petros Paranikas, Grace Puma Whiteford, Bob Tevelson, Dan Belz

[/toggle]