Tackling the Supplier Assault Course

09 Sep 2015
David Taylor Avatar
David Taylor
Supplier engagement
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The Supplier Assault Course is a metaphor that I’ve found really helpful in my time working with businesses and their suppliers. In a nutshell, each task, project or initiative that involves a supplier can be viewed like an assault course – with different stages to complete and assorted obstacles to overcome.

Whilst you could just leave the supplier to struggle through the course on their own, a much better way is to guide them through, providing the tools and know-how they need to do the job.

When you invest the time and effort to help suppliers successfully negotiate each assault course, two important things happen. 


  1. Firstly, you give your suppliers their best chance of successfully completing the tasks you set them.
  2. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, your suppliers’ level of engagement increases.

This is because they feel understood, valued and supported by you; the relationship you have with your suppliers is deepened. They become more committed to the things you care about and more willing to work to your timescales and requirements in the future.

Equipping your suppliers

In the previous post in this series, we began to look at a real-life example of a Supplier Assault Course: asking suppliers to respond to a survey. We thought about the different stages of the task (Step 1) and what obstacles might stand in the suppliers’ way (Step 2).

This week, it’s time to think about the third step in applying the assault course metaphor to the real world: how you could remove unnecessary obstacles and help suppliers overcome the unavoidable ones.

Step 3: Address the obstacles

Below are the stages of this particular assault course, the obstacles that might present themselves as well as some suggested solutions.

Some of the obstacles identified take long-term focus and management to improve, but recognising their importance to so many of your supplier activities is still important.

Obstacle: Correct contact at the supplier actually receives the survey

  • The survey sent to someone who it is not relevant to
    Make sure you only send the survey to contacts who are relevant (e.g. target specific job titles – Product Developer, Sustainability etc.)
  • Invalid or incorrect email address
    Long-term – Continually review and refine your contact lists. Validate records with the supplier.
  • The recipient’s spam filter
    Long-term – Ongoing management of your ‘sender reputation.'

Obstacle: Your contact opening the survey in their inbox

  • Not a compelling enough subject line or higher priority emails in the inbox
    Write a subject line which is clear and compelling enough to motivate your suppliers to open the survey invitation email
  • Lack of trust/perceived importance of sender (you!)
    Long-term – Ongoing management of your ‘sender reputation.'
Obstacle: Your contact starting the survey

  • Lack of compelling email content to persuade the supplier to click
    State the opportunities of completing the survey and the consequences of not clearly increasing the supplier's motivation
  • Lack of clarity of what is needed
    Before you send it out, run the survey by a friendly supplier or colleague who lacks any context – are they clear with what you need them to do?

Obstacle: Your contact completing the entire survey

  • Loss of interest due to the length of the survey
    Review the survey and remove overlapping questions or those which add no value
  • Technical issues in progressing between pages
    Pick a reliable surveying platform
  • Lack of knowledge to complete questions to a high-quality
    Go back to your friendly supplier and ask them a couple of questions – are the answers you get back giving you what you need?


Step 4: And they’re off!

We’ve identified the steps and obstacles, and the tools and knowledge that suppliers need to complete the assault course that is your survey. The only thing left to do is send it, right?

Well, almost…

There is still work to do once you’ve fired the starting pistol on your Supplier Assault Course.

Next week, we’ll look at responding to unexpected obstacles and measuring success with a view to doing an even better job with your next assault course.



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