Ask any manufacturer working in compliance or sustainability - collecting supplier data is always one of the biggest challenges they face. Lack of quality supplier data is the main source of delay for most product transparency and sustainability initiatives. We are not afraid to admit that supply chain data collection is difficult, even with a valuable tool and resource at your disposal. With that in mind, over the years we have observed some "best practices" when it comes to supply chain outreach and are eager to share them to make sustainability that much easier for companies with ambitious, world-changing goals.
Why is supply chain data collection so difficult? Like most things in supply chains, there's not a black and white answer. Some common themes are time constraints on the supplier end, data security and proprietary formulations, misunderstandings, and confusion if they have never received a request like yours before. There is also a wide range of responsiveness across industries and different company sizes. For instance, a large multi-national company tends to be slower and perhaps less responsive than a local company that depends much more on your business. Keep these points in mind as you embark on your outreach journey.
1. Show Suppliers How Toxnot and Supply Chain Engagement Benefits Them
As we mentioned, supplier engagement is difficult and often slow. One of the best ways to motivate suppliers and get the ball rolling is to clearly explain to them what they are getting out of the work they are putting in. They want to know their ROI too!
- Toxnot supplier surveys are designed to help suppliers get the most out of their efforts. Once they are done responding to a survey, they can save that data to their own free Toxnot account and use it to respond to other customer requests, screen against hazards and regulatory lists, and even create their own reports.
- Toxnot Shared Materials are another free benefit that is a real game-changer for transparency and accessibility of data. Our database allows suppliers to create public records of their product data that can be easily accessed by their customers, significantly reducing time spent and time to respond.
- Toxnot’s Customer Success team is the best in the business. Our in-app chat can get you a response to any question within 5 minutes or less, and this support is provided to suppliers at no cost. Not only can they get assistance with responding to a request, they can also get broader guidance and perhaps find their own need in using a platform like Toxnot for data storage or product design.
- Show them what their information creates or helps you accomplish. While the journey to the information might be rough at times, seeing the final product – a sustainability report, company-wide analytics, a case study – is a great motivator and can encourage them to be more proactive.
- Remind them of the market value of getting ahead of sustainability and compliance trends. Transparency, sustainability, and going above and beyond product compliance minimums are the new gold standard. Consumers are demanding change and companies that meet that need sooner rather than later are undoubtedly going to end up at the front lines of their industry.
2. Set Clear Expectations
Depending on the company, your supplier might be seasoned in technical customer requests, or they might be brand new with a lot of questions and some confusion. Regardless of where they are at, making your expectations clear can get ahead of any potential barriers.
- Make sure you have a clear deadline. Giving an undefined timeline can encourage suppliers to push your request to the side, waiting until you remind them and often not getting you a response until after your desired deadline. Providing an explicit date helps suppliers manage their time and prioritize your request as needed.
- Be clear about effort expectations. One of the common pushbacks our customers get from suppliers is the amount of time it will take to complete the request. If your request is simple and the supplier only provides you with a couple of components, it will likely take a short amount of time. If your request is all-encompassing and they supply you with many components, the time necessary to complete the request may be a bit longer. Take this into account when sending the request.
- Give your suppliers a heads up. Although your survey can be sent directly from your email and have your company’s branding, some suppliers appreciate the extra confirmation. It is always a good idea to email your suppliers ahead of time to briefly let them know what to expect and provide a short introduction to Toxnot.
- Remember that product formulation is very precious data and suppliers can be nervous to share this information. Make sure you remind them of all of Toxnot’s security and data protection policies. By signing our terms and conditions, they are afforded all the same protections as any other user or customer. This is more secure than alternative email servers where most people share their product data otherwise.
- Most importantly, make sure your expectations for the data and request are precisely defined. Nothing gets in the way of a survey request like a supplier being confused as to what is being asked of them. Assume they know very little and use the custom email box (when creating a survey) to define the different elements you’re asking for (BOM data, compliance information, and other questionnaire data).
3. Make it Simple
Many manufacturers opt to ask for more information in a single request to avoid having to ask other questions later. While this may be more convenient for the manufacturer, this can be overwhelming for the supplier and may significantly impact your response rate. Consider simplifying your request when possible.
- If you don’t absolutely need the data, don’t ask for it. If the only BOM data you need is CAS number, % by weight, and role, adding in 10 other fields (even if they’re marked as optional) can confuse suppliers and reduce the likelihood of them responding.
- Direct them to Toxnot’s educational materials. Even with a simple survey, some suppliers aren’t as fluent in technology and appreciate some additional assistance. Our supplier help library and instructional video can be a great introduction to the system and the type of questions they will be answering.
- Take the time to write clear instructions and audit your survey before sending it to your suppliers. Instructions are a great opportunity to provide clarity and clear definitions for what you are expecting to get back. Doing some quality assurance on the survey by sending it to yourself and reviewing it from the supplier’s perspective can be a game-changer as well. Nothing is more confusing to a supplier than a survey that was created incorrectly, and oftentimes they don’t understand that it was an error on your end, they instead just get frustrated with the process. Do them a favor by making sure your survey is perfect before sending it out!
Frequently Asked Questions from Suppliers
Regardless of how simple, straightforward, and clear you try to make your survey, you will still get questions and concerns from suppliers. Don’t forget that transparency is still new for some companies, but your efforts are an important step in changing the status quo of supply chain norms. Here are some things you can expect to hear along your outreach journey.
- “Our data is proprietary.”
No worries – Toxnot was quite literally designed for this exact purpose. When responding to a supplier survey, you can mark substances as proprietary. This will provide your customer with the hazard score and list flags, but the substance itself will be concealed, ensuring the security of your formulation. This help article walks through the simple steps of marking a chemical proprietary.
- “This is going to take so much time.”
Maybe not! First and foremost, it depends on how many different parts they supply to you, as well as the complexity of those parts. If the components are simple, it could take minutes! If the data is a bit more complex, it might take a little bit of time upfront, but that data can be used over and over again to respond to other customer requests. Either way, it is important to remind suppliers that transparency is the new gold standard, and their hard work will pay off.
- “We don’t have this information and cannot fill out your request.”
If the first contact at a supplier company doesn’t have the data you are asking for, someone else will. Perhaps that person is at their company, or perhaps they are further down the supply chain. Many purchasing contracts will have clauses about a supplier’s responsibility to provide you with specific information, like compliance and hazard data. Leverage these tools and other executives at your company to get the ball rolling. Again, putting in the work upfront can benefit so many people along the supply chain later on.
If you are a supplier or are working with one, our supplier webpage has great resources. If you’re an interested manufacturer or existing customer that would like to chat about surveys and improving the data collection process, schedule a personalized demo with us.