How to nurture supplier partnerships that power MSP success


Anita Underwood

Director, Service Delivery, EMEA

My team and I can't do what we do without brilliant suppliers. We often talk about the relationship between client organisations and MSPs (managed service providers) – but suppliers are the critical third pillar of every successful programme. And every contributor in this three-way partnership must be committed, knowledgeable, and adaptable to enable a program to perform at its best. That's why operations leaders must engage effectively with suppliers, nurturing relationships that amplify programme, organisational, and supplier success.

Too often, MSPs are seen as gatekeepers, providing limited opportunities to preferred suppliers and freezing others – particularly smaller talent providers – out of the conversation. This isn't a feasible, long-term strategy for a thriving programme. A great, engaged, diverse supply chain provides crucial access to talent today and lays the groundwork for the people needs of an organisation in the future. MSPs and suppliers must work as equitable partners to ensure a business can always access the skills it needs to meet its goals.

Here are some of the ways operational and business leaders can elevate supplier relationships and unlock contingent workforce programme excellence:

Create a supplier mix that fuels success

When we start working with a client, they almost always have an existing supply chain. This legacy supply chain reflects years of built-up knowledge and relationships, and it would be shortsighted to rip it up and start again. Instead, we carefully assess the current supplier mix, identifying what's going well and where there are gaps. We want to amplify what's already there, adding the right suppliers in the right places to add variety and value – enhancing healthy competition. This is a careful process, and before we make any recommendations, we need to really see and understand performance by completing a detailed capability matrix. Supplier curation should always be about building a supply chain that meets an organisation's unique needs.

Tap into expert local knowledge

It's crucial to work with suppliers who are experts in their markets and regions. Often, a business simply can't access great talent well without local supplier expertise. Providers and organisations should be looking to build relationships in their most complex and challenging hiring areas with regional experts. For example, we work with a large energy client in the Middle East, an industry and geography with tough-to-navigate regulations and often hard-to-find talent. We work with two suppliers there who offer incredible local expertise that enables our programme to continually deliver. The impact of these local partnerships can't be overstated and, at KellyOCG, our expert global supplier team is great at providing local recommendations.

Provide meaningful performance data

A supply chain is a competitive environment, but it should also be one where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. An important way to achieve this is by providing meaningful data and feedback that allows suppliers to improve and grow through their time in a programme. Regular scorecarding and performance metrics are a great way to start this dialogue, but they have to be accompanied by practical support and advice that helps suppliers – especially newer suppliers – to course correct. It's also important to consider the size of the supplier pool – too small and an organisation can't access all the talent it needs; too broad and suppliers don't get the attention or opportunities they require and may focus their energies elsewhere.

Champion diverse supply chains

Strong supply chains are diverse supply chains, and working with and supporting diverse suppliers is essential in welcoming all types of voices and experiences into a contingent community. KellyOCG was recently recognised for diverse leadership by global MSP client Cummin Ltd when we were awarded their prestigious 2023 Global Supplier of the Year Award. We're incredibly proud to have recorded $1.8B of diverse spend in 2022. But it's crucial that programme providers not only expand their diverse supply base, but actively mentor diverse suppliers and ensure their voices are heard. One way we've done this at KellyOCG is by inviting smaller, high-potential, diverse suppliers to events with our highest performing global suppliers. This has sparked conversations and connections that help our diverse suppliers to evolve and other partners to access fresh perspectives and ideas.

Create a connected supplier community

Suppliers who understand the culture and goals of the organisations and programmes they serve will always perform better than those who are just throwing people at a role to see who sticks. One way to achieve this is through regular supplier events that help talent providers to understand how the talent they source shapes a business and where that organisation is heading in the future. These kind of events grow both trust and understanding. At KellyOCG, we do this through regular in-person and virtual supplier summits and through our annual supplier awards, which recognise excellence across our supply base.

The battle for talent is ongoing in many industries and geographies across the world, and leaders with a connected and robust supply base will win the fight. While those organisations and contingent solutions providers who fail to curate and support their suppliers, or who focus only on squeezing costs, may find themselves a low priority for the talent providers they rely on. Ultimately, supplier partnerships are critical to successful MSP programmes, and businesses and providers who overlook these relationships may struggle to keep up with the competition.


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