You are a sales person. Procurement people hate hearing this. I’ve got news for you, it’s true. “I’m not a salesperson!” they say firmly. But if you really think about what you do. If you critically analyze the role you have, you sell in your job. Whether you like it or not, selling is a major component of what you do as a procurement person.
Sure, what the world and suppliers see is you as a procurement person, but think about all of your internal relationships and the sales you have to do internally.
”That’s not sales, Mark, that’s relationship building and helping people to understand there’s a better/cheaper/faster/less risky way to do things.” Forgive me while I laugh out loud, ha! THAT IS SALES!
In my opinion, as an experienced procurement person, you sell to 3 main groups on a daily basis:
- Users/The Business
These are your customers. The business uses your services to find the right product/service at the right price in the right time. Part of this role is advising them on lead time, availability, products, the marketplace, major players, etc. They rely on you for competitive intelligence and they rely on you for your procurement and negotiation skills to deliver the goods they need on time and at a reasonable cost. Depending on the maturity of your organization, you could even be selling them on the benefits not single sourcing and going through a competitive process. You may even have to sell them on actually having an objective set of criteria to rank proponents on and using those objective criteria to rank the proponents. Perhaps you have to sell at a higher level to get the business to give procurement enough lead time to do a competitive process, to involve procurement earlier in the conversation so that procurement can be effective. I know some of you fight this with all that you can, but you are a salesperson. This is such a deep area of conversation that next year I’ll be chatting with a few people on the podcast to discuss different sales and marketing strategies that procurement orgs can use to become a more effective, increase adoption, and to visibility in the business.
Leadership are typically big picture thinkers and they don’t get into the weeds all that much. They often make strategic decisions without necessarily knowing or considering what the impact of those decisions will be. And frankly, it’s not their job to know those things, it’s your job as a procurement person to advise them of those things. Often, you need to advise (sell) leadership on a direction that you believe is best for a particular commodity/category/business unit. They may have a belief on a process/product/market/commodity/vendor that is opposed to yours, and that belief may not accurately represent the full picture. It’s your responsibility as a good procurement person to be consultative in your approach with leadership and help them to get the right information so that they can make an informed decision. See, there you are, selling again.
This one’s a bit controversial. In my experience, legal are the arbiters of legal risk in the organization. Like leadership, they may not have full visibility to process/product/market/commodity/vendor. This means that you as a procurement person need to advise them on these items. Often, whether we admit it or not, we act as representatives for the business to legal (and vice versa, obviously) to be able to communicate to legal what the business needs are and the business views on risk. Without you representing the business, the legal team may make a ‘uninformed’ decision that while being the less risky approach may negatively affect the business. Your job as a good procurement person is to weigh business needs against legal needs and try to manage the balance between both sides. And ultimately, you may even need to sell the business on not moving in a certain direction because the risk may be too great.
Next week I’ll dive into some negotiation skills that you can use to approach your internal negotiations. I don’t think I need to convince you that you’re a salesperson. I think you already knew it. Now you just have to come to terms with it. But if you are a salesperson (which you are), then you should probably get better at sales. Procurement people tend to be cold, data driven, analytical professionals. Sales doesn’t come easily to us. But, like negotiation, it can be taught! It’s not just for the select few with silver tongues. Do yourself a favour and pick up a book on sales and start reading. I recommend starting with The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need by Anthony Iannarino. It’s an excellent book and Anthony is a super nice guy. You can check out the podcast that I did with him here. If you read and then apply the skills, not only will you get better at sales internally, but you’ll start to understand the average salesperson a lot better than you did in the past and you’ll very likely start getting better deals in place.