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  • Writer's pictureJuli Lassow

The Unfair Competitive Advantage

handwriting that says how, what, why, where, when, and who

As part of your vetting, you’ve asked your prospective supplier some questions, as well as a few more and a few more.

But now what?

Well, I’d suggest you find out what sets this supplier apart from all the others you’ve talked with. In short, what makes this potential partner unique, noteworthy, or distinctive?

As you learn what makes a supplier exceptional, you’ll also need to understand how that competitive edge aligns with your organization’s key values.

You need to find out: Which supplier is the best fit for you? Which one possesses the ability to consistently delight your customers? And who has precisely the right stuff to help your business prosper long-term?

How to Assess a Supplier’s Competitive Edge


  1. Where does the supplier recruit design team members?

  2. What experiences do they look for in hiring?

  3. How does the supplier invest in the capabilities of their team?

  4. What tools do they invest in for their teams?

  5. Does the supplier have specific market expertise in the area(s) where you’re looking to grow?


  1. How does the supplier recruit, train and elevate their production team members?

  2. Do they see this investment in the team as an investment in their future?

  3. What processes, tools, and equipment has the supplier designed to improve quality and efficiency?

  4. What makes this supplier’s production process different (read: superior) to their competitors?

  5. How is the supplier able to scale or expand production?

  6. Can they support the areas where you would like to grow?

  7. Can they do it as quickly as you’d like?

  8. What is the supplier’s “speed” quotient?

  9. Production timing?

  10. Is it improving?

Costing Competitiveness

  1. How does the supplier gain efficiencies in procurement and lower their prices? (For example, do they buy in bulk?)

  2. How does the supplier develop exclusive sourcing relationships with mills, raw material suppliers, and so on?

  3. How does the supplier elevate their sourcing and negotiating skills?


  1. How is the supplier looking to grow and evolve?

  2. What technologies, processes, and tools are they investing in?

  3. What were some of the biggest risks the supplier took in the last year?

  4. What big, meaningful, or consequential things has the supplier learned recently?

  5. What will be different about the supplier’s organization in the next year?  In the next three years? Five years?

After you’ve talked with a prospective new supplier a few times, you should be able to easily articulate their value proposition—and more important, see how well it aligns with your own.

Of course, you want a supplier who’s a total fit for your organization, but sometimes, you may need to choose one who falls short of your ideal. For example, you may need support right away, or you may not have any better options at the moment.

If you decide to move ahead with a supplier who’s not the perfect partner, resist the temptation to “just accept it.” You simply can’t afford to have a supplier who’ll be unable to meet your needs over the long term. It’s far too risky.

So don’t settle. Keep looking for suppliers who can help your business grow in the future; or create an action plan to quickly elevate the performance of your less-than-ideal partner.

Your team and your customers will thank you for it.


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