3 min read

Critical Suppliers and Lessons Learned from Professional Sports

One of the many lessons the pandemic has taught us is the importance of having a solid—and smoothly running—supply chain. We saw firsthand how quickly things can be turned on their heads when something goes awry with a single broken “link” in the global chain.

Critical suppliers play an integral role in keeping everything running smoothly, but this is something that doesn’t happen overnight. What kind of skills can we build to tackle any issues that arise head-on (or ideally, before)?

Professional Sports is also an area where the difference between success and failure is determined by a fine balance of skills and vision. Let's look at how this can inform our understanding of a solid supply chain.

4 Skills from Professional Sports that Critical Suppliers Can Implement

1. Be Prepared

Sports teams stay on top of their games by running agility drills repeatedly in practice sessions; creating “muscle memory” so that they can react quicker in the game than their opponent. Likewise, it is vital for critical suppliers that we remain agile and can adapt and quickly pivot when experiencing supplier issues.

According to The Hackett Group’s Procurement Key Issues 2022, being prepared to anticipate and quickly react to shifts in the industry “is critical to rapidly-changing business priorities, supply markets, and a robust supply risk management capability.”

2. Be Persistent

Setbacks are inevitable, so we must learn not to be deterred when encountering them and instead look at them as opportunities to learn and grow. The GOAT, Kobe Bryant, once said, “Turn every setback into a comeback.”

3. Trust Your Team

No one does it alone, so it is crucial you build a strong team. Iconic football coach Vince Lombardi explained how teamwork makes the dream work:

“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” And it really does take a village—especially when we’re talking about creating and maintaining a robust and sustainable supply chain.

4. Ask for Feedback and Listen

Every player on the field has room for improvement, but if they aren’t open to the feedback from coaches, trainers, and other teammates who have expertise and insights that would help them grow and up their game, they will never move the dial. Similarly, it is important for us to use feedback from trusted advisers and team members to build stronger relationships and services.

How To Be the MVP for Your Critical Suppliers and Procurement Function

One of the first things you can do to be the MVP for your critical suppliers is to enable sustainability. Like a coach with his players, you have to think of the long game. You can’t go out there and give it your all in the first quarter, only to burn out or come up short and unprepared in the 4th, when the stakes are at their highest.

The Hackett report supports this assertion. “The expectations and demands of procurement’s stakeholders (e.g., employees, customers, governments) around supplier sustainability have elevated this priority more than any other on procurement’s agenda,” said the report.

Another way you can save the day for your team is by incorporating brand new plays (like accelerating your digital transformation) into your playbook. As the world and industries evolve, the things that once worked won’t anymore, and those old plays that you have relied on for years won’t be enough to keep up.

According to the Hackett Report, accelerating digital transformation is an “essential enabler” for procurement to deliver. Now that sounds like a winning play.

Let’s look at a few more ways to be the MVP for your critical suppliers:


The biggest complaint of suppliers is that procurement processes are way too time-consuming. Help them help themselves. Automating the approval flow process and generally making things easier for them is the biggest flex you could exhibit.

Exception Management

Automation is good, up to a point. Beyond that, you need to manage exceptions that can happen. That's why teams scrimmage; to practice reaction to the unexpected and build methodologies to quickly address or (better yet) avoid those exceptional circumstances.

Integration Into ERP

Helping your suppliers’ integration into ERP will improve everyone’s game. PairSoft’s article further explores the many benefits of procurement integration to ERP. Make it easy for suppliers and your procurement team by removing roadblocks that silo information and make it harder to do the vital work that needs to be done for your organization—and all products and services—to get to where you want to be.


Real-time spend visibility is crucial, just like having visibility is in sports. Are you wondering what some methods you can use to be that MVP for your team are? Start by providing ways to see spend and un-silo information.

You can also provide visibility to your suppliers, such as making it clear when and how you’ll run your payment cycles and setting specific expectations that answer common questions. For example, is there any plan to change a net 60 to a net 90? Will you be looking to add suppliers to your possible vendors?

Imagine if there was no visibility in sports. Everything would be unorganized, and it would be impossible to make plays. You should consider procurement and your organization’s goals with this same strategy in mind.

Let’s face it: the game has changed. The stakes are higher than ever, and there are more and more players on the field. Critical suppliers are a strategy that will always be of maximum importance, so make sure you’re utilizing them to their full potential.

For more information about how you can leverage critical suppliers, automate your procurement processes, and provide self-service outside of the procurement function visit our Nipendo blog.

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