Stakeholder vs. Supplier – who is more important for procurement?

There are so many books written about Supplier Relationships. But none about stakeholder management. Does this mean this stakeholder is not important, or not manageable?

Supplier - Procurement - Stakeholder

I trust that cooperation with stakeholders can bring significant savings to the organization.  Also, it can make the life of the purchasing team much easier. Let me illustrate this with two stories from my career. Both are real stories and related to my times in the stainless-steel industry. 

In the first one, I got a request for a Stainless-steel tube, diameter 78 mm. For those who are not familiar, tubes are produced in standard diameters. And this one was not standard. It is yet possible to get a non-standard size, but the minimum order and price were unsustainable for this project. Since the order was about 10% of the monthly sale, I jumped in with all I got. After a week of unsuccessful communication with producers and traders on three continents, it was time to throw in the towel. Had to go to the General Manager and tell him that I failed to secure the goods. So, we will miss the opportunity. He was disappointed but decided to call the customer and check if we could do anything to save the deal. During the call, he asked for what the customer needed such a specific tube. It turns out, for a handrail in their new office building. The dimension was given by the architect as an approximate size that would fit well in the overall look of the staircase. Five minutes later we sold them another dimension we had in stock. 

The second story was scary. Literary, we were afraid the customer will come and beat us up. It was a large project with one of our best customers. He was building an indoor pool with all accessories from stainless steel. Even the roof structure was a combination of stainless steel and polycarbonates. Something you would take photos of and put in your company catalogue. We delivered everything on time, all went well. About a month later we got a call. The end-user was on the other side, screaming:


Immediately I started calling my suppliers. They were shocked like us and claimed they never had an issue like this. Meanwhile, the sales team called our customer, who did the work, to go there and do a full investigation. It is in the range of 100,000 USD for the material alone, and at least twice he charged for the work. If someone needs to pay for this, it will be BIG trouble. Three scary hours later, the customer is calling, laughing. A small misunderstanding. The end-user never told him he will bring seawater and fill the pool with it. And, since common grade stainless steel is rusting when in contact with salt water, it is not our fault. We helped by sourcing some protection paint for this purpose, as it was such a shame to see this magnificent structure rusty. Our clients left happy. 

As you can see, in both cases it would be enough to rephrase the

“what do you need”


“what do you need it for”

to avoid such issues. The producers know his product in and out. Being able to communicate the problem and solution between them can result in much better solutions. So, rather than asking for plain specifications, ask for the core problem the product/service needs to solve. Sometimes solutions will jump out no one thought about. 

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