How to Spy on Your Suppliers (Part 1)

At the Corporate United Synergy event last week in Chicago, Brian Sommer presented on a topic near and dear to my own research interests -- supply risk management. Yet his particular deep dive on approaches to reducing risk had little to do with what we usually consider reliable means of proactively stepping in to avert disruptions or other supply shortcomings. Rather, Brian focused the content in his presentation, titled, What I Just Learned About Your Key Supplier, as an alternative and potentially even better approach to keeping tabs on suppliers from a risk perspective. What tactics does Brian suggest? Hint: it's the type of cloak and daggers stuff we've all wanted a chance to partake in, but haven't had the chance since when we spied on our siblings as kids.

In short, Brian recommends legally spying on your suppliers, using both new and older sources of information to gain intelligence, to garner insight you won't find in a D&B or Equifax supplier enrichment report or profile. Brian began his talk by describing a changing balance of power when it comes to information discovery. He mentioned that in the B2C world, we already have powerful allies like Yelp, Google and other sources to help us research potential suppliers. But the shift that happened in B2C is rapidly coming into the B2B realm as well. Brian suggests that there are "business data mining" troves of data out there to support procurement organizations in entirely new ways of discovering information about suppliers.

Consider the power of LinkedIn, Brian opines, when it comes to understanding the health of suppliers. What does it tell us when employees at a certain company all pile onto LinkedIn for the first time, or when a number larger than the norm begins to update their resume/profile information? Companies that are letting go of talent are clearly "risky," in Brian's view. On a broader level, it's tips like this that can show us a company's overall health and stability is declining long before it shows up in a credit or supply risk profile alert.

Still, the Internet is not perfect for spying on suppliers. Not all information is accurate. Brian cites "Wikipedia, blogs, resumes, private company sales figures and outdated resumes" as potentially incorrect sources of data. Still, in the aggregate and with enough information as a sample, the Internet can be an absolutely invaluable tool for gaining early insight into supply risk. Stay tuned for further suggestions from Brian that I'll share in the coming days.

- Workstreamer

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