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In the supply chain accreditation process, preparation is everything

A well-organised response to a prequalification questionnaire can show off the best side of your business, says Lee Parkinson

The pressure on the supply chain has never been greater. However, that term ‘supply chain’, which is as laboured as ‘partnering’, is often shrouded in mystery.

At the most basic level supply chain management simply understands where products and services come from and how they end up at the site gate. Of course, there are many levels.

At its most advanced, effective managers of the supply chain have a thorough understanding of where products and services come from, together with many techniques to get those products and services faster, better and cheaper.

Therefore, one of the first steps in supply chain management is understanding who you are dealing with. For very small businesses understanding your supply chain can be simple Đ in many cases you may know your supply chain personally.

Added complexity

For larger businesses, supply chains can be very complex.

It is often difficult for subcontractors to see why contractors require what seems an unfeasible quantity of information in qualifying or accrediting their suppliers.

While there is no shortage of war stories where subcontractors have spent ages completing the prequalification questionnaire for a blue-chip contractor, only to never receive an enquiry, there will equally be examples of good supply chain management.

Subcontractors should always look at the accreditation processes as a good way of selling the very best characteristics of their business.

A good grasp of the business’s key information is essential to ensure that responses to prequalification questionnaires can be dealt with properly.

While there is a plethora of prequalification questionnaire formats in the industry - and it is about time that at least the industry bodies influenced their members to develop one approach - in the main they all cover similar ground. If you maintain the information on an ongoing basis, the process of prequalification can be less painful, if not painless.

All questionnaires will request basic company information, the minimum required to do business including the business name, contact details, registered office, company registration details, VAT certificate details and insurances.

Rapid response

It is likely that the questionnaire will ask category-specific questions around health and safety, quality, financial information, organisational information, supply chain management and references.

Responding can be difficult when you are trying to run a business on a number of fronts, particularly when you are just starting up. Good preparation is essential.

A great start is to develop your own knowledge directory. You can develop your own or build it around a comprehensive prequalification questionnaire that you receive.

Index it around key category areas - such as basic information, and health and safety - and maintain an up-to-date record of supporting information. The more questionnaires that are completed, the more you will develop a comprehensive resource for responding to customers.

It is vital to ensure your responses to prequalification questionnaires are consistent. If one or a small number of staff can manage, it is always better.

Your response to a questionnaire should be seen as a statement of intent. If the questionnaire is a mess, what will prospective customers think of your workmanship?

Request an electronic copy of the questionnaire for completion - it will always look better than one completed in even your very best handwriting. Structure the response with any supporting documents set out as appendices to the questionnaire.

After investing all that effort into a great response you have every right to find out the prospective customer’s feedback. If you are keen to hear what the customer thought of your response they are also likely to be keen to do business with you.

Construction is now following other industries in applying online prequalification or profiling solutions where the paper is cut out of the process and the questionnaire is completed via accessing a secure website with the opportunity to upload supporting documents.

If free to subcontractors, these can cut paperwork and the risk of the questionnaire being lost.

Lee Parkinson is director of Parkinson Procurement Solutions