By John Antunes, head of SME and channel, SAP UK and Ireland

With the economy forecast to experience further turbulence over the next year it is more important than ever for businesses to get the absolute best value out of their suppliers.

When it comes to appointing a new supplier however, it’s crucial to avoid the blinkers of finding a good deal or a quick fix. Certain considerations, such as how your relationship with your supplier will develop in the long term, are what you need to focus on if you are to invest in a solution that will be right for you.

The biggest mistake I have seen SMEs (small to mid-sized enterprises) make is falling for the face value agreement for fear of losing out or dragging the decision making process on too long. I would always encourage SMEs, of all sizes, to challenge what they are being offered, test how potential suppliers would deal with certain situations and be confident that they have considered not just what their business needs are now, but what they will be in three to five years time – taking the time to consider these factors now will save you time and money in the long run. Unfortunately there is no crystal ball that will tell you what your exact business needs will be in the future, that’s why the relationship with your supplier needs to be adaptable and ready for change.

With that in mind, below are five key points that I would advise all SMEs to consider when choosing a new supplier.

1. Innovation
Without innovation, you are in danger of falling behind. Your supplier should be investing in new technology, solutions or business practices all the time in order to keep up with, and stay ahead of, fast-paced developments. Without innovation at the forefront of your suppliers’ mind, the service they provide is unlikely to be supported by the best products available; meaning the service you provide could ultimately be compromised.

2. Choice
Every SME has different business needs, so it’s only right that any supplier you appoint ensures that they are working to specifically meet your requirements, in a way that’s convenient for you. It’s all about choice and being able to select from a variety of options, what exactly it is you would like from your supplier. A one-size-fits-all approach is unacceptable and will end up costing you both time and money.

3. Growth
Any solution you invest in should fall into line with your long term business plans. SMEs should think big – growth is key, so look for a solution that can grow with you. A supplier who can match your vision for growth, rather than having to update a system not too far into the future, with all the retraining and IT downtime that process represents, should be what you’re looking for.

4. Industry expertise
Having specific and proven expertise in your particular industry is one of the most important assets any supplier can have. Without the knowledge of the pressures you may face now and in the future, your supplier will not be equipped to provide you with the service you really need.

5. Local
Whatever the level of support you require, you should always be able to access, not only all of the relevant (and useful) information when you need it, but someone to speak with who is aware of your business, how it’s supporting you and what they can do to help. You are investing in a relationship, not just a product.

Once you have considered these points and then selected the most appropriate supplier it is vital that the organisation sets clear stages at which they review the contract and assess whether it continues to meet your needs. You should think of your relationship with your supplier as dynamic; keep the channel of communication open and the discussion of change, active.

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