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Why every purchasing department needs a CRM platform

The last two years' supply chain disruptions and challenges are well documented. Ask any supply chain or purchasing professional, and they will reflect that their job has never been more challenging. With near-constant sourcing for substitutes and replacements, tracking back ordered items and shipping delays, and preserving margin in the face of inflation, category managers and purchasers constantly communicate with potential and existing suppliers. And while their challenges have evolved, for many, their tools have not. Despite advancements in supply change technology and automation, and digitization of transactional information across the supply chain, purchasing departments are still managing vendor relationships in the same way they have for years – through email, phone, and occasionally chat. Furthermore, as back-office teams, such as accounts payable and receivable workers, have moved to and stayed remote, many organizations have struggled to get a 360-degree view of their supplier relationships when it has never been more critical to have these insights.

Fortunately, one solution is straightforward and may already be in place at your organization. CRMs, or contact relationship management solutions, have been used for decades by marketing, accounts receivable, and service teams to get a holistic view of the customer relationship. There is a high likelihood that your vendors are using a CRM to manage and monitor your communications, issues, and behavior – so why aren't you doing the same?

The barrier is often internal organizational structures, not technical or financial issues. If your company has a CRM, it is likely owned by the marketing or sales organization or occasionally a customer service function. Internal silos and IT organizations focused on functional, not holistic solutions haven't identified this cross-over platform need or provided a cross-functional solution. Organizations looking to use their CRM to manage any "C"ontact – not just "C"ustomers – often find a high degree of existing customization for sales or service teams that makes cross-utilization for vendors, and partners, or even employees impossible. Too narrow of a focus during implementation may have closed the door to innovation and adaptation.

Regardless of where your organization is at – without a CRM, with a CRM purchasing can't use, or with a CRM that is ready and waiting for use with vendors – as a supply chain professional, it's time to take the same approach to manage your suppliers as they do in managing you as a customer. Getting started might feel daunting, but here are a couple of key considerations when selecting and implementing a CRM to improve your vendor relationship management: