The following article was prepared by Mike Taylor, C.P.M. for distribution to NAPM affiliate newsletters. 

September 2002

Establish Relationships

This profession is most valued for being able to find the unfindable, locate the obscure, track down arcane information and generally do the impossible. Supply Chain professionals bring a broad body of knowledge, skills and information to the table. Six users all wanting their oddball material delivered yesterday is not unusual and this challenge makes our job interesting.

Old timers will say that the difference between a great buyer and a good buyer is as much who you know, as what you know. Knowing whom to contact often solves the unsolvable problem. For this reason, the people we meet and relationships we establish can make a world of difference in our career and our performance.

By establishing realtionship with buyers in other companies, we can build a "resource library" of friends. People we can call on when ll else fails.Here are a few examples of relationships that can help get the job done:


Old timers in every organization probably have dozens of war stories like these. Stories about calling just the right person who bailed them out of a difficult problem. 

Great buyers have a reputation for doing the impossible. They are the busy ones who have connections and know how to use them. The old rolodex with identifying smudges in just the right places, the business card file that goes back to one of the first salesmen you ever met and the electronic contact list organized by categories are all indicators of someone who understands and values relationships.

These people go out of their way at trade shows, programs and events to meet everyone they can, exchange business cards and chat with new acquaintances. They ask lots of questions about what, how, who and where. They talk about work and squirrel away names of their newfound contacts. They sit at tables with people they don't know, examine company names on rosters and seek out likely contacts. 

"I may never have bought a left-handed winkle before, but the first rule of purchasing says someday I'm going to need to buy one in a hurry. When that happens, hopefully I'll know someone who buys them all the time."

So how can I do a better job of cultivating my network? 

Here are some ideas:

  1. When you travel or attend purchasing events, go out of your way to meet people. Sit with people you don't know at meals. Ask questions. Think of it as a job interview in reverse. a. Who; do you work for; do you buy for; do you buy from; do you work with? b. What; do you buy, do you use; do you sell? c. How; do you decide; track; obtain; procure; contract? d. Why; do you like it; do you hate it; do you do it that way? 
  2. Carry, distribute and collect business cards. Lots of them! The Japanese may a ceremony of exchanging business cards and almost everyone has a card. You might even want to order some inexpensive business cards in your own name and home email to use when you are not working on behalf of the company. 
  3. Don't just file the cards away in pristine condition. Mark them up, write the meeting date and occasion on the back, add notes about items of special interest and highlight important facts. 
  4. File the cards topically, not just by the person's last name. File cards by category, commodity, specialization or some other key element that means something. Putting a salesman's card for the Zebra company in the "Ss" because his last name is Smith won't help you find a zebra when you need one. 
  5. Mark or tag the really important cards. I once had a card with a greasy green smudge on it for the company that sold special grease we used. It was the only way I could ever find it. 
  6. If you have one of the electronic business card scanners, use it. Put it next to your desk and let it scan while you eat lunch. Note: A good friend of mine had a business card scanner that was buried in un-scanned cards. I think this was less-than-effective use of the scanner and the cards. 
  7. Use Outlook or some other good contact management software that lets you store and sort contact information by category. I'm talking about Outlook, not Outlook Express. Use the same program at home that you do at work, then what you learn one place you can use at the other.

    hmmmmm. I'll bet there are some people reading this who will say that they don't have time to learn how to use software. They refuse to read manuals or guides. These are probably the same people who still use carbon paper because the copier is too hard to figure out. It's O.K. with me, it makes my next job search less competitive.

    Here are some Outlook tips: 

  8. Drag an incoming mail message to the contacts folder. It will automatically set up the contact for you with a copy of the message in the notes. Update the fields for company, address, phone etc. 
  9. Cool trick: In Outlook 2000 if you have the address included for a contact, open the contact and click on the yellow road sign on the toolbar. Outlook will connect to an online map showing the address. 
  10. If you have a scanned image of a business card or a picture of the person you can also paste it into the contact notes. 
  11. Paste copies of email messages about address changes into the contact notes as well. 
  12. Assign categories to each of the contacts. Open the Category window for contacts and select the MASTER CATEGORY LIST to create your own custom categories (e.g. pump suppliers). You can also assign messages to categories. Don't forget important categories like "potential employers", "potential employees" and "ISM officers" 
  13. Use the VIEW > CURRENT VIEW > VIEW BY CATEGORY to display, select and send messages to everyone in a specific category. You can do an automatic mail merge from Outlook to Word and create form letters to a group of contacts. Here's an article that describes how. 
  14. Use the same software at home and at work so you can share the contacts. Forward a contact created on your work computer to home and drag it into the contact list. 
  15. Create personal mail folders for messages related to a specific event or activity. This relegates all of the contacts related to that event in one place.
  16. Take a quick look at the Outlook Tips page and see if any of these activities would help.  


People in our profession who establish and cultivate relationships understand the true value of a network to themselves, their company and their careers. Do you?



MLTWEB is assembled and maintained by Michael L. Taylor, C.P.M. 
Materials and articles prepared by Mike may be shared for purchasing education provided that this source is cited and no fee is charged. The rights for any other use are withheld.
Copyright;  Michael L. Taylor, C.P.M.
Last Updated: 11/26/2016