How To Use Candid Supplier Ratings During the Reference Process

 We all know that the mandatory reference check process leaves a lot to be desired. To be honest, it's broken. But going through the motions and reaching out to the three references listed by a supplier is required as part of the job when signing a new contract. In fact, in some jurisdictions it's actually illegal not to check multiple references to inquire about a supplier's past performance.

The main issue with reference checks is that most are a waste of time. References are often coached on how to answer the common questions that they know are part of every check. The questions are always the same, and so are the answers, so nobody learns anything new from the process. And at the end the buyer doesn't feel any more confident than they did before the reference process began.

One strategy to break up the monotony, and to ask better questions, is to research and analyze a supplier's reviews on Procurated to hear what other purchasers have to say about the supplier before calling the references. Trends, red flags, and specific anecdotes will quickly become apparent, and those are the topics worth asking references about. The references will not have practiced answers to these questions, so they'll either share the honest truth or avoid answering the question, which is equally telling. 

Here are few examples of reference check conversations that benefited from preliminary research on Procurated about the supplier's historical performance.

  • Your city is planning to build a footbridge across a busy highway to connect public transportation site on one side of the road with a university campus on the other side. You've narrowed the solicitation down to the best value bid and set up three reference calls. You read through some reviews and searched for "bridges" but had no luck finding good examples of their success.  The lack of bridge talk is starting to become alarming. Does this supplier even build bridges?  Because you haven't seen evidence of their skills yet, you use the reference process to get an explicit answer on their ability to build a stand-alone structure. The first two references give glowing reviews, but all the supplier did for them was pour concrete for sidewalks. That doesn't prove whether or not they can build a bridge. Then you ask the third reference, "What did this supplier build for you, specifically?" And they go on to rave about a winding, six-story walkway that the supplier built from the ground to the top of the college football stadium at the state university. Problem solved. They have a proven track record. And sure enough, when you go back and browse the reviews looking for references to stadiums you see multiple satisfied buyers. 

  • You read through 15 reviews about a supplier that has a very high 4.7 out of 5 star rating, but in multiple reviews the purchaser complained about a specific customer support representative from a subcontractor of the supplier. We'll call her Janet Dough. Apparently, she is difficult to work with, hard to get ahold of, and slow to respond to urgent issues. Everything else you read about the supplier is great, but when you talk to the references you can ask them, "Who was your customer support representative throughout your project?" or "Did you work with Janet Dough at all?" The reference may give you a name of their customer support representative, saying "we work with Abe E. Sea on every project." Now you have the information you need to request he be assigned to your contract before signing. 

  • You are checking references for a supplier that bid on a transportation contract to bus students from one location to another during the day as part of a language emersion program. They spend half the day at school speaking English, and the second half of the day is spent with adults speaking a second language. The most important thing, other than safety of course, is that the bus must be on time every single day. If the bus is late the entire framework of the program falls apart. The bus cannot be late. The supplier is highly rated at 4.6 out of 5 stars, with near perfect marks on pricing and quality, but they ranked slightly lower on the subcategory of timeliness. They are still a 4 out of 5 on timeliness. But a 5 in this category would be more reassuring, so it's worth asking about. When asked specifically about late pick-ups or drop-offs one reference said they never had any issues, but the other two used nearly the same language, saying "they were late once or twice." If you apply the general physician's "rule of doubles" that they use on booze and cigarettes, we can assume they were late at least three or four times. All things considered, that may or may not be a deal breaker depending on what the other options look like, but either way, you'll be glad to know you made the decision with all of the information available. 

In all of these cases, the buyer is equipped with enough information to move forward and make a decision with confidence.  The combination of written ratings and reviews from real people across procurement accentuates the truth and highlights any red flags that come up during the live reference conversations.

If you have a supplier under consideration and would like to get more information heading into the reference process, visit procurated.com/suppliers_search to search for the supplier by name and learn more about their performance.
  Alex Stonehouse

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