In my last post, I wrote a little on the importance of extending participation in the sales and operations (S&OP) collaboration process as well as knowing what questions to ask each party. In this blog, I would like to step away from collaborating with internal departments to discuss collaborating with customers.

Working with customers is very similar to collaborating with product/marketing managers in that you need to know how many would be participating by region, how customers should interact with the application and at what level they should enter overrides. However a few other factors have to be taken into account and below you will find a list of additional questions to ask when collaborating with customers:

  1. What criterion should be used to select or identify customers that should participate in the collaborative forecasting process?
    Ideally, they should have enough volume, revenue etc. to make the effort worth it. For instance, if you do an ABC analysis on your customers, ideally, you should think about collaborating with your A customers before B and C because A is where the value exists.
  1. Are there currently any mechanisms or processes for customers to provide future demand information? (Email, fax, EDI, phone calls).
    If no mechanism exists currently, what are the candidate mechanisms for implementing in the future? Be sure to take into account whether you would be willing to provide them access to your corporate systems or you want to agree on a pre-formatted file exchange.
  1. Do you have any customers who collaborate at this level with their other suppliers?
    If so, they will be a good fit for this collaboration because they have experience and are groomed for the process.
  1. Do you have any Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) customers?
    They might be already sharing some data (for example inventory and POS data) with you and might be willing to share more.
  1. Do you have customers who are always insisting on getting better service?
    These types of customers are often the most willing to share data and collaborate as a quid pro quo. The opportunity to improve customer service is something that will attract their attention and as our experience shows collaboration increases customer service levels.

Now collaborating with your customers may a bit different but ultimately can increase your customer service and satisfaction levels. What are your thoughts? Have you ever collaborated with your customers? Was it a success?

To read more on extending sales and operations participation request a free copy of A Practical Guide for Improving Sales and Operations Planning by Arkieva’s CEO Harpal Singh.

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