Fifteen years ago, when managed service programs and vendor management systems were just starting to show real promise in managing the non-employee workforce, I attended one of SIA’s Executive Forums — the industry conference for staffing firm executives — as a guest. During one session, I asked the assembled staffing firm panelists how they were pursuing cost savings and increasing efficiency as part of their business strategy. The speakers chuckled, saying that theirs was a people business and unlike other forms of industry, the drive for savings and efficiency would never be as material to business success. I sat down, knowing it was only a matter of time before the landscape was altered. And the change was going to be tectonic.

Fast forward. Those same suppliers at later conferences lamented that they were being commoditized by these new management strategies, asking each other how they could remind their clients of the value they bring and the true strategic partner they deserved to be.

Of course, anyone who understands the workforce solutions ecosystem knows that a good provider is vital to a program’s success. Indeed, even suppliers that have been sidelined as a commodity can turn the ship around, taking specific steps to make themselves valued again. Here are some things a provider can do to stand out.

  • Knowledge experts. Suppliers should actively provide insight and information critical to your program’s success. These may include keeping buyers abreast of legal and legislative issues, changes to talent supply, or even providing informational newsletters. Knowledgeable suppliers have an especially relevant perspective on an in-demand source of talent. If a supplier can deliver a critical role faster than the others – speed wins and gains favor with the customer.
  • Follow the rules. Smart suppliers respect that program rules are there for a reason. They follow them and even hold themselves accountable. If a supplier’s local branch office goes around the program office, a good supplier immediately blows the whistle on itself. Simply playing by the rules is a great strategy for suppliers. It also grabs the attention of the buyer.
  • Work with the MSP. A supplier that wants to be valued demonstrates true partnership by working closely with the MSP office to develop solutions to fill the gaps. Suppliers should not be afraid to speak up especially when they have something worthwhile to offer.
  • This is my favorite quality for providers, and the one that most are afraid of. But when buyers understand a provider’s pricing model, they know they can trust its pricing, and – more importantly — even defend it. Further, buyers would be more committed to the suppliers’ success knowing they could trust they were not taking advantage of the supplier. It’s a win-win.

Staffing doesn’t have to be a commodity. Staffing providers can be — and often are — valued stakeholders to the contingent workforce program. But standing out is no easy task. Buyers also need to take the time to understand and value the supplier mindset. How does your firm’s provider landscape compare to this list? Are there other ways suppliers can stand out to you? Feedback from both buyers and suppliers in the ecosystem is what is going to take us forward. Please reach out to me.