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What is it?

In principle, having an inbox full of emails from suppliers who want to tell you about their product is a great sign that the market cares about you as a customer. In practice, however, it can be overwhelming and burdensome to address and purposefully utilise cold outreach from suppliers. Nevertheless, if handled correctly, inbound engagement from suppliers is a useful way to learn about the market and can significantly cut down time spent on market research.

We suggest embedding a digital form on your website, through which suppliers can express their interest in working with you and provide information that you request. This form should be linked to a database such that, every time a supplier fills in the form, a new entry will be created in the database. This database will help you systematically keep track of suppliers that have reached out. With tags and categories designed to reflect your business needs, as well as search and filter functionality, you will be able to find and reach out to relevant suppliers as and when necessary.

Setting up a shared database between boroughs, or sharing access to Airtable bases is a great opportunity to share knowledge between authorities, and enhance the horizon scanning capabilities and efforts of each.

How should you do it?

We have produced a detailed guide (with images and a live demo) on how to set up such a database with a corresponding digital form using Airtable. Airtable is free to use for these purposes. Whether you choose to use Airtable or an alternative solution, it is important to:

<aside> <img src="" alt="" width="40px" /> Carefully consider which supplier information is valuable to you, and how you can categorise suppliers in a manner that will aid your search further down the line. (Examples are given in the step by step guide below).


<aside> <img src="" alt="" width="40px" /> Make sure you ask for the supplier's consent to record, store and share their data to stay GDPR compliant. This is absolutely essential if you intend to share information across organisations.


<aside> <img src="" alt="" width="40px" /> Clearly signpost the form on your website, with a precise explanation of its purpose. Indicate that unsolicited emails will not receive a response, but that you will reach out to suppliers that have filled in the form, when appropriate.


<aside> <img src="" alt="" width="40px" /> Use the database comprehensively and consistently. If you have a list of preferred technology suppliers that you work with, remember to add them to the database. If you receive an email from a supplier, redirect them to the form. If you meet a supplier elsewhere, tell them about the form and encourage them to fill it in.


<aside> <img src="" alt="" width="40px" /> Periodically clean up the database by searching for and removing duplicative entries. You can also remove suppliers who have provided insufficient information, or reach out to them for further information.


A webform like this can easily be embedded into your borough's website, and act as the portal for suppliers to engage with the borough. We have set up a live demo here, for you to see how the form feeds into the database. If you fill in the form (you can use fictitious information) and refresh this page, you will see that the information you filled into the form appears as a new entry in the database below.

Once you have set up your own database, this is what the backend will look like for you. You can expand records to view the supplier information as a card by clicking the expand icon which pops up when you hover over the supplier name. We have grouped the suppliers in this list by service area, but as we explain below, you can customise how you sort, group and display suppliers in the database (suppliers and individuals listed below are fictional, and used for demonstration).

The steps below will teach you how to set up a webform which links to a database to capture inbound engagement from suppliers (note - a similar process could be set up using a number of database tools: see our section on Low-code Tools for examples).