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How To Drive Supplier Adoption & Engagement with Supplier Marketing

How To Drive Supplier Adoption & Engagement

Supplier Experience Live 2023

Just as digitalization and automation have reshaped the customer marketing experience over the last decade or more, and just as we’re seeing the growth of employee marketing to attract and retain the best talent, so too should we expect supplier marketing to take hold on the buyer side of the equation in enterprises. 

During this year’s Supplier Experience Live Conference, Anthony Payne, CMO at HICX, unravels what this means for both enterprises and their suppliers – and what opportunities it already presents. 

The article will cover:  

  • What is the main cause of initiative fatigue for suppliers 
  • What is supplier marketing 
  • How to use a simple marketing framework to drive supplier adoption and engagement 
  • Top 6 recommendations to drive supplier adoption and engagement 

What is the main cause of initiative fatigue for suppliers?

In this session, Anthony addresses the challenge of driving supplier adoption and engagement.  

As he explains, generally the problem does not surface at the start of the relationship. Initially, the supplier is highly incentivised to work with the buyers – they wish to do what is requested to win the business and leave a good impression for future opportunities.  

From the supplier’s perspective, they would then like to step into what could be described as a ‘steady state’ relationship, which is centred around transactions. Buyers invite them to new tenders, they make offers and deliver products, and the buyer pays their invoices.  

The challenge is that, from the buyer’s perspective, the ‘steady state’ looks a lot more complex. The backbone still remains transactions; however, complexity abounds around issues such as requests for compliance documents, quality information, performance information, scorecards and tax information, to name just a few.  

These new initiatives frequently introduce new technology to an already complex supplier landscape. As a result, the reality of the ‘steady state’ for our suppliers is transactions going backwards and forwards, requests for additional information, and providing new but also updating out-of-date data.  

Furthermore, this is something a supplier must do with all their clients, not just you. As a result, suppliers are badly suffering from initiative fatigue.  

While the buyer may still be in the driver’s seat and have the right to demand information, suppliers also have agency in that they can choose when and to what extent they engage with you, which can have negative effects on your business. 

What is supplier marketing?

Philip Kotler, renowned in the marketing world, defines marketing as, “The process by which companies engage customers, build strong customer relationships and create customer value in order to capture value from customers in return.”  

Anthony explains that we can equally define supplier marketing by simply changing the word ‘customer’ to ‘supplier:’ 

Supplier marketing is the process by which companies engage suppliers, build strong supplier relationships and create supplier value in order to capture value from suppliers in return.  

The value that you want as the buyer is a supplier providing answers on the quality survey, taking part in the carbon footprint neutralisation campaign, or simply logging into your systems to keep information up to date. Supplier marketing therefore helps by building strong supplier relationships and creating supplier value through insights, content, and so on.  

How marketing campaigns are created – a simple framework

Bringing the marketing analogy to life, Anthony explains how marketing campaigns follow a very straightforward framework: “We have the audience, we have the message and we have the channels,” he says.  

In other words, there is no point in coming up with a message before you know the audience. Equally, you also need to keep in mind the channels through which you want to communicate that message when delivering it to the specified audience.  

What to focus on during campaigns

Going deeper, Anthony explains the key areas marketers focus on during each step:  

  • Audience: Segment and target based on relevant characteristics. 
  • Message: Provide an action or ‘offer’ that is compelling and relevant. 
  • Channels: Consider multiple channels, coordinated for maximum impact. 

Case study:  XERO

To help illustrate, Anthony shares an example of an advert that Xero ran on the London Underground.  

In this case, Xero targeted small business owners directly, rather than the usual audience of accountants or Finance Directors in this industry. The change in target audience required a change to its messaging.  

Rather than talking about such themes as early notifications on tax changes, Xero focused instead on communicating how they help small businesses to grow and get paid faster.  

This message is then combined with the most appropriate channels, in this example traditional advertising, to target their audience.  

For Xero, then, the details of the campaign can be summarized as:  

  • Audience – Small business owners directly, i.e. not accountants or Finance Directors.  
  • Message – “Help your business grow” and “Get your invoices paid more quickly.” 
  • Channels – London Underground advertising (and many others); and probably less so the financial trade press.  

How to use this simple marketing framework to drive supplier adoption and engagement

Anthony next explains how this simple marketing framework of defining the audience, refining the message and choosing the right channels can similarly be used for two key use cases that buyers are faced with:  

  1. Supplier data requests: The need to get new information or update existing information from suppliers. 
  1. New tool adoption: Introducing a new tool that your suppliers should engage with. 

Supplier data requests

Anthony continues, “What we need to do is get to what marketers call ‘hyper-segmentation,’ or, in other words, ‘segments of one.’” This simply means that your suppliers are only asked for the information relevant to them. This increases their willingness and their ability to engage with your initiatives. 

Considering the marketing framework for this initiative, it all breaks down as follows: 


  • How should suppliers be segmented based upon the type of request we wish to make? 
  • How do we achieve a ‘segment of one?’ In other words, a state in which each supplier only gets relevant requests? 


  • What’s the value for the supplier? 
  • What help can you provide, maybe by segment? 
  • Identify mutual goals where possible, consider incentives where not. 


  • Emails. However, think of these as email sequences, rather than one-off emails. 
  • Written word is the most common approach but don’t forget that there are alternatives, such as short video (e.g. Loom). 
  • Telemarketing might be useful for the unresponsive or most impactful suppliers. 

New tool adoption

For this use case, Anthony suggests looking at the Pareto principle to determine where you will achieve the most impact. For example, when replacing your invoicing system with an alternative that will save you $15 per invoice, if you know that 20% of customers account for 80% of your invoices, it is a good idea to prioritise that audience first.  

To summarize then this initiative in relation to the framework: 


  • Prioritize based on impact 
  • Consider the job roles within the supplier organization (in marketing, we think of this as personas) 


  • Define the value message in the supplier’s terms – what’s in it for them by adopting the tool? 
  • Consider personas – how does it help the person in that role meet their goals? 


  • Notifications in existing tools (used carefully) 
  • Portal with segmented content management 

Watch the Live Session at Supplier Experience Live 2023

Top 6 recommendations to drive supplier adoption and engagement

Anthony concludes the session with six recommendations for driving supplier adoption and engagement using supplier marketing:  

  1. Experience the process directly. Try out your own initiatives from the viewpoint of different types of supplier and ensure they make sense. 
  1. Apply initial segmentation. This is where you should start. 
  1. Be supplier-centric. Think about what matters to them. 
  1. Improve and maintain supplier data.  
  1. Think in terms of campaigns. 
  1. Consider setting up a Supplier Marketing Team.  

We can’t be successful without our suppliers and in order to obtain the best results we need to build strong supplier relationships. This can be achieved when we put ourselves in the shoes of our suppliers and use the language and channels that connect with them.  

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