How do turn your supply chain into a competitive advantage? Tiffanie Stanard, founder and CEO of Stimulus, joins us in this Executive Perspectives episode and explains how businesses can leverage data and diversification to establish better purchasing practices.
This interview was edited and formatted for clarity.
Tyler Fussner, Managing Editor, Supply Chain Connect
Welcome, Tiffanie, and thank you for joining us.
Tiffanie Stanard, Founder & CEO, Stimulus, Inc.
Thank you so much for having me.
Can you please introduce yourself to our audience?
Hi, everyone! I am Tiffanie Stanard, CEO and founder of Stimulus and we are based in Philadelphia.
Tell us a little bit about Stimulus. What do you guys do and what drove you to start this company?
I'll start with my background first. I've been in vendor management as a young executive for many years. Started in the early, mid 2000s, working across different medium to large companies, and then became a full-time consultant in the field. I've worked on both the buyer and vendor side for many years now. It's been about 17 years of being in this space.
I've been on so many different platforms, worked across so many different industries, and really saw the need of when folks said “relationships” that it was more transactional when it came to the platform they were using. A lot of the relationships were still being built offline, at events or back and forth through email. Nobody was really digitizing how buyers and vendors work together and gain knowledge about each other. And I was seeing a lot of innovation across different industries, but I wasn't necessarily seeing it in the supply chain with suppliers and how they work with these external businesses.
And I always saw [it as], “Hey – this is your external team. These are the people that you are working with and spending so much money with on your balance sheet, yet, you don't necessarily have a good relationship with them.” And we saw that pre-COVID, and especially during COVID – the need to really understand who you're buying from and who you could be buying from.
Stimulus is a relationship intelligence SaaS platform that combines data insights, relationship building tools and a proprietary score focused on the suppliers performance to really help companies really build better relationships with their suppliers, make better purchasing decisions, but then also grow their supplier network.
That's very cool. It's interesting being ingrained and entrenched in an industry and seeing the need to fill those gaps, and to be able to step up and deliver something like that, it's got to feel rewarding.
Yes. And hard, but yes.
For sure. I want to hear a little bit more about how Stimulus does enable their buyers to make more informed procurement and sourcing decisions. What is the sort of data and analytics that are being leveraged and looked at?
As far as looking at the buyer’s data, we’ve seen throughout the years the importance of data, the importance of analytics, and especially on the buyer side. So, whether you're in the sourcing team or the procurement team, you're gathering someone's data on suppliers that you are currently working with or considering to work with. And there are so many companies that are reaching out to you on a regular basis, whether it's at an event or they're emailing you 100 times, or drip campaigns and all of that. And you're just housing all of that data in so many different places.
Our goal was, first, to do a full audit and understanding of who's in your supply chain. What is the relationship you have with them – whatever relationships across the board that you have with businesses that you may not have labeled as a vendor, but could be a potential vendor for you in now or in the future? It's first starting there. And it's looking at, “How do we make it more efficient for companies to choose the right suppliers, and then fulfill business objectives?” Business objectives can be, “Hey, we should spend more locally. We should spend in the cities that we're located in, let's look at that data.” Sustainability. That's a big goal across organizations now; “How are we working with those suppliers? And how are they working within the sustainability industry in the market?” And then of course, being a diverse supplier myself, how are you looking at business diversity, supplier diversity, and looking at your DEI criteria?
So, it is us bringing all of that information into our database on our platform, but then also giving you that same information across suppliers not in your supply chain – outside of your supply chain – and bringing that information together and allowing for you to easily compare suppliers using those relevant metrics and data points so you can quickly match them to available contract opportunities real time.
Now it's going from sourcing (Who can I be buying from? Who am I buying from now?) to who is about to make this purchase now or in the future, so you can stop that disconnect and help that relationship form correctly from the beginning. That's how we are working and looking across data; first looking at their data, but then gathering the data that we have, that we've gotten from other buyers and other partnerships that we bring together, to give them a full 360-view of their supply chain.
Wow. And I can't imagine as a business coming in and having that 360-view, as you put it, there's so many things to take into consideration, there's so much data to go through and sort through, and to be able to have all those boxes checked and to be able to do the comparing and contrasting against who you're doing business with – it's very insightful to be able to approach it that way.
Exactly. Now, it is even just that saving of information and holding that information is a lot of where the process gets slowed. And whether it's you wanting to work with that certain supplier that has reached out to you multiple times, but 20, 30 other folks have reached out to you in that that interim since they reached out to you over that three-, six-month period – how do you look back without feeling overwhelmed in your job where it is, “Hey, we're about to be at the end of Q2. I need to now look at what we're doing for our next quarter, our next year.” And you may not have the time to go back so far when someone has reached out to you. So, we're really trying to streamline that process for them, but also create something that's buyer and vendor friendly. Because like I said, being on both sides, I've never seen anything that, one, as a buyer puts me in front of the people at the right time, and then as a vendor knowing when to reach out to you when you're actually about to buy what I'm selling.
You hear so much the term “data overload.” And being able to have this actionable data… Like you said, you may have someone reaching out to you now, but you're not ready to make that decision yet. And then in that meantime, you can be inundated with so many different choices and options. The process of vetting those options and securing the right partner for your businesses can definitely be tedious and overwhelming. So, it's very valuable to be able to put all that data – aggregate data – together.
This year, we've seen so many layoffs across multiple industries, but in particular the tech industry. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft, Google, laying off anywhere from 7-10% of their employees. Cuts have been attributed to disruptions in the economy, inflation, brands changing focus. But the big question really comes down to, especially for the business leaders, is how are these layoffs going to affect the supply chain? How do these layoffs affect profits or the employees that you still have at that company? From your perspective, what does that mean on the larger scale?
I love that question, because I have not seen that question really answered in the broader media. They talk about the same thing over and over again when they're laying off 10%, 20% of their workforce. And it really does affect your supply chain in many ways.
One, because as I said earlier, your suppliers or vendors are a part of your external team. They are helping your employees do their job, whatever that may be, whether it's getting a product out, the service they're providing is helping you get your product out, so many different things. It's affecting that team because now the relationships that they have may not be there anymore.
And if you're a startup, if you're a small business, we see that all the time, even before these big layoffs started happening back-to-back over the last couple of years. But throughout the supply chain in general, the biggest thing that hurts a business is when you are working with your “champion” – your stakeholder – within the organization and they get laid off or they change positions or go to a different department and then you have to start that relationship over again because that information is not captured and it's not shared amongst different stakeholders.
And then that company is like, “Okay, well I've been working with you for a while now, how do I continue this relationship?” It's definitely affecting that information. And sometimes when those teams are laid off, that information goes with them depending on how they housed it, especially that external information of how they work with that supplier. So, it's affecting that person as well. And then when new people are added to the team, whether an upgraded position, title, or hired to be brought back in, now they're trying to start a new relationship with that supplier that's been there for years. So, it's like you're in this this really kind of stuck place. And then that startup or that small business, or that medium-sized business, is trying to figure out, “How do I help you do your job?” if you're new to the position or because there's restructuring happening.
It turns into this back and forth that's already happening within the supply chain, because the process still hasn't been as streamlined as it could have been over these last up-teen years, but it gets worse when you start laying off people and restructuring is happening. Some corporations that we've been working with, we had a dedicated team with some things we were trying to achieve, either one was laid off or, two, their title and your team change. Now we're in a stuck place. It happens no matter what your relationship is with that corporation and you're trying to figure out what do you do as a small business to continue to work with that business to grow with that business. But you're also a small team that doesn't have the resources to continuously follow up as things are changing and you have to sit and wait, unfortunately.
Things can be outside of your control. But it really sounds like it all comes down to the relationship that you maintain, that you have in place, and how do you continue to have a relationship going forward, no matter what the disruption is. So, what can businesses do to really lean into and strengthen their supplier relationships?
I say that a lot in how we build out Stimulus, but also throughout my years that I've been in this space and the advice that I also give to vendors. It's how you're tracking that information in that relationship. So, one stakeholder has been laid off that that vendor was working with, but you have five other stakeholders that you were working with throughout the organization that you can call upon, or at least show the timeline of that relationship over a period of time that you can take with you when you move to another team. We try to showcase that information within the platform to really streamline, “Hey, this is when you interacted with Stimulus. This is how many teams she's worked with, through Stimulus. This is how many times that she's been on a project. This is how many times that she's worked with these different stakeholders.”
Tracking all of that information, it really helps on both sides: it helps the buyer to know what type of relationship they have with that supplier to say, “Hey, we want to continue and grow with you, no matter what team is working with you,” or they do not. And then on the vendor side, if five people left that team, but you can show what you've done with those five people over a period of time, a new person or a new team that's coming in can say, “Okay, I know where to put you at now, because I know what you've done, I know who you work with, and we documented it accordingly.”
It's creating something that is buyer and vendor friendly. It's, on the buyer side, making sure that the stakeholders that have worked with that vendor or stakeholders that could work with that vendor are documenting and using something like Stimulus to showcase their relationships with that supplier. And on the supplier side, it is making sure that you're working with multiple stakeholders, so that no matter what happens with the team, you can document your journey to present to them and say, “This is what I've been doing with you for the last few years, the last few weeks, or last few months, and this is where I can pick up and this is the next title, or team, I can continue to work with.”
I think that having that roadmap history laid out is a huge backstop for something so disruptive as massive layoffs or losing the people that you've been working with externally – having someone be able to come in and see everything that's taken place, well documented and organized, so that they can pick up where they left off.
You see that with your employees. If teams change, things happen, you see that, hopefully, in one of the employee systems that you're utilizing. Or something changes with your customers, you’re seeing, “When did we start engaging with that customer?” Maybe they have a new account manager… You start to see that information across so many different teams, but you don't necessarily see that on the supply chain side.
Do you have any suggestions or insights for what businesses can do to prepare for unexpected events like layoffs? Is there a way to put in a contingency plan to be able to be ready to undergo such unexpected events?
I think it's important to have that contingency plan of how you are working with these different corporations. I saw it more throughout COVID. What is your plan if you are about to, or possibly, run out of product that you're presenting across the market? What other vendor could you partner with to make sure that you're not losing a customer? It may have you partner with a “frenemy,” as they say – you're in the same industry, where you could work together but don't want to work together.
I think it also reminds the suppliers to build better relationships with their suppliers. You can't ask for what you're not offering. A contingency plan works both ways because every business is a buyer and a vendor. You are trying to get into someone's supply chain, and someone is trying to get into yours. It always falls back into that relationship of “What is your plan if a product that you're trying to present is stuck in the port situation?” [etc.] There are so many different ways to look at that, where you need to have a plan for how you work with your customers, but then you also need to have a plan – a contingency plan – of how you work with your suppliers as well if you want that same relationship that you're trying to get across the board.
I think the last few years have shown every business to be prepared for the unexpected. Now's the time to really do a reassessment of that contingency plan that you have in place and see should things hit that level of disruption again in the near future, how are you going to navigate that?
Right, or create one! So many companies have not created a plan of action. No one really “expected” the last few years, and years that will continue as we see in the media reports, so I think it comes down to what is your plan in general of how you're going to get your products or services to people.
If you don't have a plan in place now, maybe it's a good time to hit the drawing board. On that same note, maybe taking a step back and a larger scope, as businesses will be navigating uncertainty in the future, how can they use data to provide some sort of transparency or guidance through that navigation?
Data, as I said earlier, you have so much of it. If used correctly, in addition to utilizing technology like AI, it should be your “second brain.” Our goal was to make suggestions, make recommendations. If you're looking for something specifically, and maybe you didn't find it that one time, but then you come back to our platform and now it's recommending what you didn't find before. Or based upon how you're searching, you’re sourcing, and you’re spending, it is making recommendations off of that. That's what you hope data to be, allowing you to quickly make the best purchasing decisions, regardless of where you are in the company or collaborate with another stakeholder within your company to make those quick purchasing decisions while growing and optimizing your supplier network.
Because technically, your suppliers – your supply chain – should be a part of your competitive advantage, no different than your team, your employees, your customers, your partners, your board. They're supposed to be a part of it because they're helping you deliver your product or service to B2B, B2C, B2B2C, whatever it is that you're doing. It's important to leverage them accordingly. And the best way to do it, the way we're doing it across other parts of the company, is looking at the data and figuring out how to use that to make a better decision now or in the future.
I think that's a really good way to look at it: your supply chain should be an asset. It should be a strength. That's a really good perspective to take.
Yes. One thing I've seen across the board that we hope to continue, is not only understanding your suppliers, and understanding who could be your suppliers, is of course diversifying your supply chain and diversely not just looking at the ownership of the company, but looking at local spend, as I said earlier, looking at sustainable spend, looking at other ways that you can leverage your suppliers to be a part of your competitive advantage.
And for us, it's also how you can use data where sometimes within supply chain I always say people buy professionally the way they buy personally and vice versa; people buy personally the way they buy professionally. And sometimes you create these habits, good or bad, that keep you in the same buying space that you’ve been throughout your entire career. And we're seeing and we hope, seek, to continue that you're looking at suppliers and not assuming that, “Hey, there may not be a local supplier that can do X, Y, and Z.” But you look at the data and say, “Oh! There are 20 companies that can do X, Y, and Z.”
Same thing when it comes to women. Same thing when it comes to people of color. We're hoping that people use that data to create better buying habits and use that data to leverage making those purchases versus assuming their own personal knowledge or lack thereof to make those decisions. And we're hoping that data could really help with that. Because that's the point of it. That's the point of this information – that you're not going to make an assumption; you're going to look at the data to say, “Hey, there may be women in this industry that I've never worked with that I could be working with,” and vice versa.