Trust Over Transactions: Exploring Deming’s Fourth Point

Among Deming’s 14 Points of Management, the fourth point encourages a fundamental shift in how businesses approach their procurement strategies: “End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.” This principle challenges the traditional transactional approach and advocates for a more holistic view of procurement, prioritizing long-term partnerships over short-term gains.

The Pitfalls of Price-Driven Decisions

The conventional strategy of selecting suppliers based solely on price might seem at first glance to make financial sense – in fact, it’s how most of us start our supplier search: who’s cheapest? However, this approach often overlooks the hidden costs of such decisions, including potential quality issues, inconsistency, and the lack of a reliable supply chain. Jay Patel, CEO of Amtech, explains, “If cost was everything, then we wouldn’t have a luxury market that helps us drive innovation.” Focusing solely on price can stifle innovation and quality improvements.

The Value of Long-Term Relationships

Transitioning to a model where businesses develop long-term supplier relationships can have many benefits. Patel sheds light on this by sharing Amtech’s approach: “We try to select one person and have them understand the way that we want to function and work, and have them know that we’re behind them, good, bad, or other.” This commitment to a single supplier creates a deeper collaboration where the supplier is a vendor and a partner invested in the company’s success. This partnership facilitates a mutual understanding that can lead to better product quality, enhanced service delivery, and innovation.

Minimizing Total Cost, Not Just Price

Deming’s point extends beyond the simple admonition against price-based decisions; it advocates for minimizing the total cost, encompassing all aspects of the procurement process. Total ownership costs include logistics, storage, handling, quality control, and potential supply disruptions. Companies can reduce these hidden costs by establishing a strong relationship with a single supplier. This approach enhances operational efficiency and ensures a higher standard of output and consistency, which is essential for maintaining a competitive advantage.

Strategic Supplier Relationships and Organizational Growth

Strategic supplier relationships go hand-in-hand with organizational growth. These relationships can transform suppliers into partners contributing to the business’s strategic goals. For instance, a supplier well-versed in a company’s processes can offer customized solutions that significantly improve efficiency and innovation. Patel illustrates this by highlighting the proactive nature of such partnerships: “Because we have this type of relationship with them, they go above and beyond.”

Overcoming Resistance and Embracing Trust

While the benefits of embracing Deming’s fourth point are clear, resistance to change is a common hurdle. Many companies fear the risks of dependency on a single supplier or worry about the potential for complacency in competitive pricing. It’s up to leadership to evaluate your vendors and make sure you pick them on more than just pricing. This requires a shift in mindset from viewing suppliers as interchangeable entities to recognizing them as strategic partners. Leadership must lead this cultural shift, emphasizing trust, integrity, and aligned values over cost considerations.


Deming’s fourth principle of management is a powerful reminder that true value in business relationships often lies beyond the price tag. By working towards long-term supplier partnerships, you can minimize total costs, enhance product quality, and drive innovation. This approach requires visionary leadership that values trust and mutual benefit, characteristics that are essential in today’s complex and rapidly changing business environment. As businesses navigate these challenges, Deming’s insights remain a compass toward more sustainable and profitable operational strategies.

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