How can you be the best supplier in the MSP supplychain? That’s a difficult question to answer. As a career procurement professional who now advises enterprise clients through SIA’s Contingent Workforce Strategies Council, I have come to sympathize with the struggles many suppliers face in trying to succeed in these programs. And it starts by understanding the difficulties in establishing recruiting differentiators when the MSP operates between you and the end client.

The fact is, from a procurement standpoint, recognizing differences in any addressable category can be very difficult. When buyers are confronted with numerous options, and they appear more or less as similar service delivery models, it’s incredibly difficult to make a decision around sourcing suppliers. And it’s not about what you as a supplier thinks makes you stand out from your competition; it’s about what is important to the end client.

Here’s a look at some differences that could set you apart in their eyes. These distinctions may help you and your offerings be seen as strategic as opposed to a “commodity.”

Service. What specifically about your service is extraordinary? Is it the 24/7 support? Do you provide direct recruiter support as opposed to shared? Don’t forget to ask whether this is important to your client. Intrinsic to providing good service is how you respond and treat both the MSP and contingent workforce program office. And what’s your preparedness when it comes to escalations? Questions around escalation, rogue spend, program rules, etc. will come up. So, make sure you have appropriate, solution-focused policies in place. The same goes for program adoption. Do you support the program office in maintaining adoption or not? Going outside the program intentionally — regardless of who asks you — is the fastest way to getting kicked out.

Talent. Being able to provide talent when needed is at the heart of the staffing provider value proposition. And while many providers draw from the same talent pool, some nonetheless are able to provide more qualified workers than their peers. This may be due to a variety of reasons. It could because of a recruiting philosophy that gives them a unique window into a critical talent pool. Or they may offer a package of benefits that motivates higher-skilled talent to want to participate in the program. But at the end of the day, this competitive advantage comes from understanding how you — the supplier — provide talent differently or what the benefit of that differentiation is to the end client. Being excellent at delivering talent in one category brings the expectation that you will be able to do the same in other niches. Be certain you can deliver before taking on a new category.

Culture. All things being equal, it’s often the culture of the staffing company that enables it to win business. Buyers of staffing services are human. And they want to work with people they like and trust. Concerns like whether the suppliers will do the things they say they’re going to do, or whether the direct account rep is somebody that the buyer can have a good relationship with over the next three to six years, become easier when there is an affinity. While it might not be obvious, these things do sometimes get noticed in a crowded MSP field — some clients do have cultural metrics in their scorecards.

Note that I did not include cost or pricing in this list. Cost will get you in the door, but that’s all. I often joke that I have yet to find the supplier who tells you they’re going to provide a mediocre service at an overinflated price. But the reality is it happens more often than the supplier community would like to admit. As a result, buyers have developed a certain hard-won skepticism about supplier claims and value statements.

To build a long-term relationship, you need to be able to clearly differentiate your service, your window to talent and your company culture — and, most important, make sure the client can actually understand what that difference is.