CWS 3.0: January 25, 2012


Perspective: Finding the Right Suppliers

During the Contingent Workforce Strategies Summit last year in Las Vegas, I heard one question constantly repeated by several contingent workforce program managers in attendance: How do you find the right suppliers for your program?

You need suppliers that want to partner with you, and your organization must be fully dedicated to partnering with the selected suppliers. You need to ensure the selected suppliers will fit in with your company’s culture, they do not have any hidden motives and they truly want to establish a win-win relationship. And that can be tricky. Here’s how my company approached the process.

Recently I went out in the marketplace to learn more about the capabilities and best practices within the managed services provider (MSP) space. I have 20,000 suppliers in my contingent workforce program today, covering several labor categories and operating in around 25 countries. Given the complexity of the different labor types and geographic locations, I knew that I needed to identify multiple MSPs to support ConocoPhillips’ program.

My approach was simple, but unorthodox. I asked select MSPs to allow me site visits with their large clients so I could see how the MSP/client relationship was working for my counterparts. While my efforts were initially met with resistance from many of the MSPs I approached — this wasn’t how a traditional request for information process is run — the majority of them agreed to participate after having detailed conversations around our intent.

After securing their cooperation, the MSPs allowed me to select one of their clients where they were running an onsite program. The site visit was broken into three parts; meeting with the MSP supplier to understand their philosophy and best practices, meeting with the client and MSP together to understand the dynamics of the program and meeting with the client alone to gain their perspective without the MSP supplier being present.

Representatives from the clients’ procurement, HR and IT participated in my visits to ensure all of the various functional requirements were discussed. We allowed the MSP supplier to share its core values and, most important, why they believed they are driving the contingent workforce space in a strategic direction. This approach was successful because it allowed us to quickly determine which suppliers we could see forming a long-term partnership. Further, we learned several eye-opening items that would not have come out in a traditional RFI exercise, which enabled us to get outside of the typical sales pitch that is received in a RFI/RFP.

This was a very successful approach with positive feedback being received both by the supplier and the client. The process allowed all parties involved to gain new perspectives and the opportunity to share best practices.

Michael Pruente is category leader, contingent workforce, for ConocoPhillips. He can be reached at


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