Staffing Supplier-Buyer Relationships: What It Takes to Make It Work

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Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Michelle Cox, founder of Believe In You Coaching and Consulting and former senior manager, external staffing and vendor relations, at U.S. Cellular.

With more than 11,000 staffing firms that exist in the U.S as of 2016 and more than 28,000 offices, buyers’ options when choosing a staffing supplier to support their organization may seem endless. For years the age-old question from staffing suppliers was, “How do I get in the door at XYZ buyer or managed service provider (MSP)?” During a panel I sat on for my previous organization, I answered this very question and my response was simple: We need to create a relationship, and relationships don’t happen overnight, nor do they exist without effort.

Think about your relationship with your significant other, your car mechanic or even your hairdresser. All of these relationships took time. Time to get to know one another, time to connect, time to learn and share common interests or styles, time to understand one another’s needs and wants. It takes time before you fully allowed that person to be “the one” you trust. Creating a buyer-supplier relationship is no different.

For staffing suppliers and buyers, the magic question then becomes: How do you create and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship? Is there a blueprint? Building a house provides a good analogy for building a relationship.

Set the Foundation

Your foundation is getting to know the culture of the supplier or buyer you’re looking to build a relationship with. Setting the foundation actually allows you to move past the normal questions of how many fills they have, what their niche is and whom they’re doing business with. It actually allows you to go beyond the numbers and get to know the human side of the business. Questions for you to consider:

  • What are the organization's core values and beliefs?
  • What are they looking to create in the organization (now and in the future)?
  • What gets them up in the morning excited to come to work?
  • What keeps them up at night?

Framing out the Structure

Many of you may think of this as guardrails or terms and conditions, but it’s actually the opposite. The framing and walls of a house is your structure. They work with one another and are all responsible for holding a very specific load. Your walls are you (the supplier or buyer) actually owning your capabilities, your strengths, your weaknesses. Owning your wins and losses. And being fully transparent.


  • What are your wins? What are you celebrating?
  • Are you digging under the numbers to understand what’s working and what isn’t? Whether it be people or process?
  • Does your organization have a one year, three-year or even a five-year plan that everyone in your organization knows and can speak to?
  • Are you developing your talent?
  • Have you lost a client? If so, have you looked under your rug and can you own your place in the loss?


  • Do you have policies and procedures in place for both your suppliers and hiring community?
  • Do you measure your suppliers and provide these metrics on a regular basis?
  • Are you measuring the performance of not only your suppliers but that of your program and hiring community?
  • Are you asking for support from peers, mentors or buyers and suppliers in service of creating a better program or organization?


You may be wondering how windows align with this conversation. Windows provide transparency and the possibility of communications. They are strategically placed throughout the house to essentially show and tell. The bigger the windows, the better. My question to you is this: How do you show and tell?

Suppliers and Buyers:

  • Are you in regular conversations? Not only when a new requisition comes out or when it’s quarterly business review time but outside of those times?
  • Are you asking the tough questions?
  • Are you sharing what’s happening in your organization? The good, bad and ugly?
  • Are you providing key insights that you’re learning from other clients or peers in the industry to support one another’s growth?
  • This question is specifically for buyers with MSPs: Are you hiding behind your MSP or are you creating direct relationships with your suppliers?

Setting the Roof in Place

The roof signifies that all of the elements are in place and the house is complete. The roof ensures its structural integrity. Consider that the integrity is the overarching element that you can see through your actions, words, decisions, methods and outcomes. If your integrity is out of whack, what needs to shift?

  • Your intentions?
  • Your words?
  • Your actions?

Being in relationship is not a one-sided thing. Suppliers and Buyers have a choice to work with one another and with so many choices out there, wouldn’t you want to choose “the one” that can really build a future with you.

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