Like practically any other business, most executive protection companies are vendors as well as purchasers. We sell protective services to our clients, and we sometimes buy services from other suppliers to make this happen. Ergo, we need to be good at providing the services we sell, and we need to be good at buying the services we outsource.
McKinsey, Mali, and vendor relationship management
If a major client needs to go to Mali, one of our agents will do the advance and the principal will be accompanied by one or more of our agents during the trip. We will, however, contract with a local specialist partner we know in Bamako for ground transportation, thus orchestrating a hybrid between our own FTEs and vendors.
Why? We don’t do enough business in Mali to justify having our own FTEs and a fleet of vehicles there. And unlike POTUS, our traveling corporate principals are not preceded by a military C17 carrying their own cars and helicopters. So, in this case, we make a decision to outsource selected services. In other cases, we wouldn’t.
Of course, we carefully vet all the protective suppliers that we do business with to ensure that they live up to the criteria we set for them, including training, certifications, billing, documentation, and more. We don’t want to get into all the vetting details here, as this topic, just as vendor quality control, deserve blogs of their own.
But even though we don’t carry out enough details in Mali to hire our own local FTEs there, we do know enough about the place – and about cultural differences in general – to understand that using terms like “egress point” and making a big deal about cold Diet Cokes don’t always translate easily into Bambara or French. Like all the other territories we work in, we’ve been there on details and found and trained the partners we use there ourselves.
We’ve worked with many of our suppliers for so long that they have almost become “part of the family”. Some of them depend on us for a large part of their business. Still, some of these supplier relationships have evolved to strategic partnerships, others haven’t.
Over the years, we’ve parted ways with suppliers for a variety of reasons. Some couldn’t or wouldn’t meet our quality demands; others declined to scale to meet our growing needs; a few simply retired without passing the business on.
Excuse us for nerding around this topic, but in order to take care of our clients and ensure that our suppliers do the same, we spend a good part of our working lives managing interactions between purchasers and vendors. And we understand that our friends in Procurement spend an even bigger portion of their lives managing their suppliers, including people like us.
On any given day, we’re on both sides of the relationship and the negotiating table. One moment we’re the supplier, dealing with McKinsey-enabled Fortune 500 procurement specialists about complex, multi-year client contracts we’re bidding on. The next, we’re WhatsApping with our own suppliers in Bamako about the kind of tires we want on the car in 24 hours.
The more we think about it, the more we’re convinced that executive protection providers, no matter where they are on the food chain, need to start thinking more like strategic partners and less like vendors. Similarly, we’re convinced that some clients would do well to think about executive protection more as a specialty professional service and less as a commodity.
It all boils down to quality engagement, quality control, and innovation
Yes, 60-page RFP responses can get complicated. No, it’s not always easy to make sure a vendor on the other side of the planet that we use twice a year crosses every “T” in all the paperwork we require. But over time, we’ve learned that what clients want from us as a supplier – and what we want from our own suppliers – is actually pretty simple. It all boils down to three things:
- Quality engagement with clients, employees, and partners: No long-term client wants to continue buying something from people who don’t care about them or their business. Nor do they want to hire folks who don’t treat their own employees and business partners well, who don’t solve problems proactively, who won’t go the extra mile.
- Quality control: Clients expect us to do what we promise and to control the quality of what we do ourselves. Consistently, transparently, and whether anyone is looking over our shoulder or not. We expect the same of our suppliers. And then we check them anyway.
- Innovation: Things change, sometimes faster than anyone thought possible. If we, as suppliers, don’t keep up and ideally stay ahead of the curve, then we’re falling behind. This is obvious concerning technology, but it’s also true for operations, business processes, organizations.
Are you a vendor or a specialist partner? Who do you want to buy services from, a vendor or a specialist partner?
We hope you’ll join us in a little thought experiment.
If you’re working in the executive protection industry, either as a provider or within a corporation, how do you see yourself? Are you a vendor, a specialist partner, or somewhere in between?
Similarly, if you’re involved in the procurement of executive protection services for your organization, what kind of supplier are you looking for? A commodity vendor, a world-class strategic partner, or somewhere in between?
Please take a minute to look at the chart below and think about either where you are now. What kind of an executive protection supplier do you want to be? What kind of an executive protection supplier do you want to hire? How would you answer questions like these:
- Which level of performance tracking do you provide (or are you looking for)?
- How do you engage with your clients, your employees, and your own partners/suppliers?
- What kind of quality control systems and processes do you provide (or are you looking for)?
- How innovative are you in coming up with new processes, procedures, and uses of technology? Or, how innovative do you want your supplier to be?
If you’re a provider of executive protection services, which of these four categories would you place yourself in? Where are you on the evolutionary journey from “commodity vendor” to “best-in-class strategic partner”? Are you happy with where you are, or do you want to change something?
If you purchase executive protection services, what kind of a supplier are you looking for? One who provides basic commodity services, or one who provides more engagement, quality assurance, and innovation? What about performance tracking?
We’re not saying that any of these four categories is necessarily better or worse than any other. In our industry, like most others, there is clearly a market for all kinds of different players, quality levels, and price points.
However, we do believe that more executive protection providers and purchasers will evolve towards strategic partnerships. That’s just what happens as industries become more professional. If we want to continue the professionalization of the executive protection industry, and if our clients want to make better-informed procurement decisions, then we all need to think about the kind of buyer-seller relationships that work best in the long run.