To increase supplier adoption, tell the right story

By Jeanne Trinh, January 2 2014,

The Networked Economy

For buyers, supplier networks offer a relatively easy value proposition to embrace: they help companies find new suppliers faster, source goods and services at lower cost, and collaborate and transact using real-time, digital transactions for greater transparency and control. But to maximize value, companies need their current sellers to participate in the network.

The challenge, of course, is getting your suppliers to buy in and sign up so that your entire supply chain is enabled on your preferred business network. The fact is, people hate to feel forced into things – especially when it requires them to adopt new technology that changes how they work. And telling them that they should join a business network because it will make them more efficient and save them money can be misconstrued as judgment upon how they run their business. “Do they think I’m stupid and don’t know what I’m doing?” isn’t exactly the way you want suppliers to respond to your passionate argument for their participation.

According to Michael Margolis, CEO and founder of Get Storied (which specializes in transitional storytelling for many Fortune 500 companies and small and midsize firms), when you can’t motivate suppliers to make the change, it’s probably because you’re telling them the wrong story. “There are storytelling principles and best practices that can accelerate the adoption of Ariba by your vendor network,” he explained at a 2013 Ariba LIVE session. “If you learn how to frame the right story that engages your suppliers, you can turn them into true believers. When people can identify with your story as their own, the need to persuade, convince, or sell disappears.”

So how do you tell a story worth telling? How do you get others to see what you see – in this case, that your chosen business network is a true win-win solution with significant seller benefits – and translate it into rapid business and social acceptance by your vendors?

“First, understand that people don’t buy a product, service or brand – they buy the story that’s attached to it,” explained Margolis. “Good storytelling answers ‘Why?’ from the perspective of your audience.” They’ll respond to your story in a personal way and answer questions in their head about:

  • Motivations: Who is this story really serving?
  • Audience: Does this story relate to what’s on my mind?
  • Stakes: Why should I care?
  • Trust: How can I believe you?
  • Empathy: Do you understand my pain?
  • Relationship: What can I be part of? Do I belong in this story you are telling?

What are they ultimately seeking as they evaluate your story about why they should participate in your network? “Sellers really want to know if you care about them and whether they should trust you,” commented Margolis.

Care and trust. So it all comes down to relationships, which are what business networks are all about. To build trust-based relationships, you need your story to communicate: 1) where you are coming from, 2) that you understand the world of your audience (i.e., you care about what they worry about) and 3) there’s a direct connection between their cares and what you want them to understand about business networks. This approach helps sellers find themselves in your story. In other words, they can read it and say, “This buyer understands what I am going through – and they care about us being successful. They will take care of us, they won’t hurt us, and they will look out for us.”

Try it – and see what happens to your supplier adoption rate.