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Comment: Treating suppliers well will pay dividends

Relationships make or break a business, particularly in the tough times, says Digital Drums’ Steve Dunne

Do you ever get frustrated by a person or business that contacts you for a quote for a holiday, which you then supply, only to never hear from them again?

Does it frustrate you that they don’t so much as acknowledge your follow-up email or have the courtesy to return your phone call? How would you feel about doing business with an organisation with a reputation for behaving dreadfully to its suppliers? Would it make you think positively about doing business with them, even as a customer?

Whenever you listen to successful business leaders giving advice on how to build a successful business, they talk about the need to treat your customers well, treat your staff positively and look out for the interests of your shareholders.

Yet very few touch on the importance of suppliers in the building of a brand or destination’s image and reputation.

In many cases, suppliers are the unsung heroes, often disregarded by the brand or destination. The thinking often seems to be ‘there are many suppliers around, so we don’t have to be as professional with them’.

But the smart business owner knows the importance of the supply chain: that the contribution of your suppliers, no matter how small, is vital; and that in most sectors, suppliers talk to each other. Word of mouth is powerful, and a bad reputation about a client among suppliers soon spreads. And that’s before we remember that suppliers are also customers in their own right.

Poor excuses

Recently, a freelance writer friend asked for my advice on how to handle an issue she had with a prominent tourism board’s London office, which appears to be dragging its feet in paying her invoice.

The bill is over four months old. It is for work commissioned by the tourism board, which required an overnight turnaround to, as they said, get them “out of a hole”.

Afterwards, the tourism board said the work she had submitted was “excellent”.

Since then, however, every week she has been furnished with a catalogue of excuses as to why the bill has not been paid. These have included ‘we are waiting for funds from head office’, ‘our finance department is on furlough’, ‘can you send the invoice again?’, ‘head office has introduced a new system, meaning additional forms need to be filled in’ and ‘we will pay next week’ (they didn’t).

Reputational damage

She has also been asked, ‘can you send the report again?’ and been told once again, ‘we’re waiting for funds from head office’ (this excuse appears to be the favoured default as it pops up every other week).

Sometimes replies are polite: ‘we’re looking into it, thank you for your patience’. At other times, they are quite cutting: ‘the invoice wasn’t attached to your last email’ (it was) or ‘our staff are currently not working from the office so you will have to wait’.

Nobody is quite sure why this tourism board, with its big swanky London offices and gigantic World Travel Market and ITB stands, can’t pay a freelance writer her humble fee. But it does beg the question, do the powers that be know the damage they are doing to their destination’s reputation?

I have always found that the best businesses I’ve worked for always treat their suppliers well. They always showed a really strong, positive and professional internal culture about treating everyone well: staff, customers – and suppliers.

And it is little surprise that these businesses were very successful. The most striking thing about them was that they all had suppliers who were passionate fans of the brand, who would go way above and beyond the call of duty to do anything to help.

Relationships make or break a business, particularly in the tough times. Your suppliers, large and small, can be as vital a part in that success as your staff or customers.

So treat your suppliers well. It pays dividends in the long run.

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