Every day, another technological development threatens to upend the way companies operate — or so it seems. Take my world, for instance. Freelance management systems, offshoring and nontraditional modes of engagement dominate many of my conversations with staffing services buyers in all stages of their program evolution. At the same time, these managers value and respect the role suppliers play in making a program successful. But the growing adoption of the VMS and the tech evolution in small to midsize buyers creates a real challenge for staffing firms to differentiate themselves.

The topic of differentiation will be an oft-referenced one in this column as I believe it is the staffing industry’s existential challenge: How can you become a valued strategic resource as opposed to a transactional solution? Here are a few tips to move, and stay, up the value chain.

Canary in the coal mine. It’s an economic truth that agency-sourced workers are the canary in the coal mine — in spotting the beginning stages of an economic slowdown, as well as being on the bleeding edge of talent shortages when they occur. It is easy for program managers to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of running a program. When I was in their seat, I came to rely on my supplier partners to keep me abreast of changes in the economic climate or future constraints in talent. Providers who wish to be successful should publish a monthly newsletter or blog.

Own the narrative. The best way to predict the future is to create it. Yes, the final makeup of the future workforce is difficult to predict. With thousands of providers competing for traditional agency business and thousands more new entrants selling crowdsourcing to just-in-time staffing to offshore online workers, it’s a confusing space to say the least. But you can take a proactive approach. Though you may not be a provider of said services, you can help your clients understand how they may fit in to the program of tomorrow. By taking a hands-on approach, you can help define the role you may play in a more integrated workplace, even if you don’t offer all the varied workforce solutions that exist.

Spot the fires. It’s impossible for program managers to keep track of all the issues that come up while running a program, but they are often caught off guard with issues or asked to provide insight from senior leadership. As a valued supplier partner, you can be that source of organizational intelligence they need. I appreciated those suppliers who would tell me about a particular location that was not complying with program rules or give me the heads-up on a distraught program stakeholder. It helps to know what issues to address before they take on a life of their own.

Admit your mistakes. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s helpful when suppliers are honest about the mistakes they made when asked. One of my favorite questions during quarterly business reviews was to ask my suppliers to describe a service failure, a time where the supplier messed up — such as a failure to act appropriately to customer needs — resulting in a negative consequence including a lost client.

On its face, the question may be risky for suppliers to respond to, but a truthful answer fosters trust by demonstrating the supplier’s willingness to work collaboratively and transparently. Nothing is more important in a client-supplier relationship than mutual trust. In addition, the supplier could describe what they did to fix that mistake and what processes were put in place to ensure the same mistake didn’t recur, revealing an organizational sophistication that is, quite frankly, rare.

By re-examining the way you approach your business in a competitive and increasingly complex field, you can become a critical resource to your enterprise partners. This not only sets you up to be successful in the long run, but nets you a roster of clients that you can be proud of.