Skip to main content

“Through Thick and Thin”: Sprucing Up Buyer–Supplier Relationships!

Another great guest post from Rajinder Bhandal!

Have you heard of “the language of supply chains”?

Back in January (2023), I talked about the possibility of applying the five love languages in the context of supply chains to help regulate supply chain challenges and strengthen relationships. I also questioned whether it is worth investigating this phenomenon towards discovering a

language in the context of supply chains. After careful thought, and much thinking, I decided to innovate with this line of reasoning. Thus, building on the concept of ‘the language of supply chains’, I was keen to tease out some of the pragmatic nuances and application in particular around buyer–supplier relationship and perceived mutual expectations. In fact, I had the pleasure of speaking with a business owner about this topic!

Exploring “the language of supply chains”

It was a real delight for me to speak with the Director of World of Origins Ltd, Mr Anith Puthiyankath, on the subject of the language of supply chains, in the context of perceived mutual expectations towards sprucing up buyer–supplier relationship.

In addition to World of Origins, Anith also manages his 100-year-old family business in Kerala- India, the Ittiyera Group, involved in producing and marketing of coconut oil and other edible oils since 1921. Anith is also on the advisory board of Vanamoolika, an organic farming community based in Kerala. An Alumnus of Leeds University Business School with an MBA in Marketing, Anith manages supply chains in his various roles.

Here are my questions and Anith’s responses:

RB: Where is perceived mutual expectation missing in the context of supply chains?

AP: Time especially quality time and communication. There is both time being spent and communication happening in supply chain relationships but how well is the time spent and what is the content of the communication that makes a difference.

RB: How would you define this ‘perceived mutual expectation’, so what does it look like?

 AP: A shared vision that benefits both parties. Most of the time the starting point is how can I benefit from this partnership. For any relationship to work in the long run it has to be a mutually beneficial partnership.

 I think it’s the first time I have ever been asked about ‘perceived mutual expectation’ in a supply chain context. It probably is the right word and needs to be discussed and looked into more but usually it is all about competitive advantage, JIT, quality, price, etc.

RB: From the perspective of a buyer, what do these perceived mutual expectations look like?

A buyer wants the best quality at the lowest price.  A responsible buyer I think would still want the best quality at the most competitive and sustainable price. One that will ensure both the parties are sustainable for the long term. 

RB: How about from the perspective of the supplier… what do these perceived mutual expectations look like?

Again, a seller wants a buyer who will offer the highest price and buy the maximum stock. A responsible supplier will look at the relationship in the long term and thereby provide the best product along with the best service. 

RB: What type of action is needed to deal with any potential dispute should these perceived mutual expectations not be successfully met? 

A responsible supplier needs to make sure they work with the buyer if something goes wrong. The problem has to be listened to and resolved.  

RB: Where do you see the future of ‘perceived mutual expectation’ going?

 AP: We see a lot more supply chain disruptions happening especially in my businesses involved with food. Most of it is due to climate and changes in the society. Businesses design multiple ways to overcome these challenges probably ‘perceived mutual expectation’ could play an important role and is something largely ignored by businesses.

RB: How can perceived mutual expectation help towards solving any buyer-seller relationship issues or challenges?

AP: Today most companies import produce from overseas, mostly countries that are developing or less developed. For a business in Europe or the US it is sometimes difficult to understand and accept the challenges these suppliers face locally. This results in frustrations and breakdown in business relationships. Showing some thought to your supplier, spending time to talk and listen to their conditions could probably save the relationship.

 There are new regulations that have been introduced for importing organic products from India for example these new regulations have made the process challenging and expensive. This has resulted in delays in exports causing frustrations among clients. A good client will understand this is not the fault of the supplier, they will put frustrations to the side and spend time with the supplier to work together to overcome challenges.


With thanks and gratitude to Anith for sharing the insight above!


The impact of perceived mutual expectations


The ever-changing face of uncertainty and unstable economic climate with inflation and interest rates all ‘up in the air’ is putting immense strain on buyer-supplier relationships. Thus, it is even more necessary to gel-together and figure out ways to provide and give support to each other in order to cope with the rough economic situation. In order for this to succeed and manifest as a reality, a change in mindset and a change of heart is going to be critical… for both buyer(s) and supplier(s).

Nope, this is NOT a “marriage of convenience” (!)

Just to be clear, I am not a relationship coach. However, logic prevails, and suggests that in the context of a loving couple, a ‘transactional’ marriage spells misery and perhaps even an unhappy end. In other words, a transactional relationship is not built upon love and affection and is more transactional in nature, as the word suggests. Perhaps this same thinking is also applicable in the context of a buyer–supplier relationship. Thus, there is a need to embrace a more relational approach towards a buyer-supplier relationship, built on the same good stuff that radiates thoughtfulness in an inclusive manner.

♪ Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark…

It is clear that as partners, in the context of a buyer–supplier relationship, there is a sentiment towards reducing any harsh feelings. In particular, when this involves external factors of economic instability that are out of anyone’s control. The impact of this may be perceived as delivering a poor service or even not meeting the agreements as laid out in the contract. Therefore, a much-needed shift in organizational culture, towards harmony and enhancing buyer–supplier internal communication is needed. Furthermore, in order to build a longer lasting buyer–supplier union and promote relational attitudes, a shift in this perceived negative perception into something more positive is also needed.

In the words of “The Boss” also known as —Bruce Springsteen, it does take two to tango, and perhaps there is a real need for someone [buyer and/or supplier] to put their best foot forward first towards taking meaningful action. This is in order to embrace the notion of the language of supply chains in a more relational fashion, in the context of a buyer–supplier relationship…


You can’t start a fire

You can’t start a fire without a spark

This gun’s for hire

Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark


~ Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark ~