Preferred suppliers: The chosen one

Companies with a preferred supplier can get a lot more than discounted training courses – if they get the details right.

For James Cook, partnership director at Knowledgepool, a managed training service provider that co-ordinates the training of a number of companies including Orange, the case for preferred supplier lists is straightforward.

Get it right, he says, and you’ll see more value for organisation and delegates as programmes will address a company’s needs and result in better business performance, there will be an improved delivery experience for delegates, increased utilisation and better commercial terms.

These are advantages, in his view, that come from suppliers getting to know your organisation and culture and tailoring content to your needs.

Inefficient

If you get it wrong, however, or even just let a preferred supplier list drift, the supplier network won’t keep pace with the needs of the business and can easily become inefficient.

Mike Long, a director at the British Institute of Learning & Development, says it is essential to keep on top of preferred supplier lists. He also cites the possible loss of objectivity because of a close relationship with a supplier, or missing occasional star suppliers because they don’t happen to be on your list, as further downsides of such an arrangement.

When setting up a preferred supplier network, clients need to develop a deep and insightful view about the capability of a supplier, says Wendy Brooks, a director at training company Hemsley Fraser. She recommends adopting a portfolio approach – from very large generalist through to niche, and says that rather than simply handing the job over to procurement, learning and development departments should remain closely involved at the selection stage.

This, Brooks adds, is because there can be a lack of insight and sophistication about the criteria involved, with some companies basing their decisions on as little as day rates and where trainers are based, rather than design and interventions.

References

While there is normally an awarding body involved with a certified course, Cook says it is much more difficult to assess suppliers of generic soft skills and states that a course such as high-impact presentation skills can be seen for £400, £1,200 or £4,000.

“The only variable is the person delivering it,” says Brooks. “So the only thing that really matters is client references. We follow them up religiously.”

Companies with the time and resources should also look at sending a representative on a course – something that Cook insists any good training supplier will be happy to arrange.

For Cook, the starting point for any company should be to work out what the problem is, and then get input from key stakeholders in the business.

Other key considerations in the selection process include what is important to an organisation, what outcomes it is looking for and what is going to give it confidence that this supplier can meet those needs. Additional things to consider are: the quality of training the methodology a supplier uses case studies/relevant examples of other customers with similar needs the supplier’s relevant market experience and the cultural fit.

Contractual issues

For Mel Flood, director at training firm Instep UK, the great thing about the preferred supplier list process is that you get absolute clarification about the expectations of both parties, before you commit, through service-level agreements.

These can be tailored to any company and supplier’s preferences, but should include liability clauses processes – including quality outlines and details of how it’s going to be measured remedies timelines for projects booking and cancellation processes and the agreed ownership of intellectual property. The latter should be a priority for companies looking to run courses they develop with a preferred supplier with in-house trainers at a later stage.

Case study: Co-operative Financial Services

Training provider Instep UK has worked as a preferred supplier to Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) since 2007. It began by designing a series of bespoke self-directed learning modules for a manager’s toolkit.

Last year, CFS offered its preferred suppliers the opportunity to tender for partner status in the ‘university for all’ – a centralised training, learning and development department.

After a successful bid, Instep started working on the design of four sessions on developing effective interpersonal skills as part of CFS’s Learning Week in September.

The company is now delivering a series of one-day interpersonal skills workshops, including time and priority management, report writing skills, presentation skills, negotiation techniques, influencing skills and assertiveness techniques.

Trine Charlton, supplier and external partner manager for the CFS project, says: “Instep is able to respond to requests for training design outlines, high-level proposals and cost propositions in a time-efficient manner.”

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