#7 Failure to Sell Procurement
• Failure to Listen
• Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
• Be Humble & Build Trust
In this month’s article we’re going to talk about the next in the series of the Top 10 Reasons Why Procurement Fails; #7 Failure to Sell Procurement. In my 30+ years in Supply Chain and Procurement, yes that’s three decades of experience (I cringe when I say that, though I don’t look a day over 20 years experience), I have yet to come across a business partner or leader of a different function within the company, a client or anyone for that matter, who embraced me or were in any anyway happy to see me when we first met. Yikes! While I don’t think that’s necessarily a reflection on me personally, I do believe, for procurement and for procurement professionals, it is the common paradigm of many. It’s been too long and it’s time our profession took hold of the narrative surrounding Procurement and change the paradigm. Too often I hear:
“Procurement is too bureaucratic, a roadblock, too slow and too costly.”
“Procurement only cares about savings and about the bottom line.”
“Procurement hammers suppliers into the dust to get the best price so they can claim the savings.”
“Procurement doesn’t listen and will simply come up with their own ideas on how best to source.”
“Procurement doesn’t understand my business or the issues I am faced with.”
“This project is TOO important to let Procurement screw it up!”
This last one really hurt. It was said by a former business partner when told by her executive that she needed to include me in her project.
So what can you do to combat this this bad reputation? How can we create a paradigm shift and change the misconceptions that are so entrenched about Procurement? I would say number one is to Listen! we need to listen more and talk less. In Dr. Franklin R. Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People ©, #5 is Seek First to Understand and Then to Be understood©. How can we possibly help to solve a business problem unless we truly understand what that business problem is by listening to the people who are actually in the trenches, who are up against these problems and whose problem it is that needs to be solved?
I would like to share the story behind the former business partner who said Procurement would essentially screw things up.
I had only been working for a large telecommunication company for a couple months when introduced to an IT executive who was tasked with upgrading mission critical software for the company. She was under a lot of pressure with it being so critical to the operation of the company, the crazy deadline and a tough supplier.
Her executive told her I was new to the company and that she needed to involve me in the project. Well you can imagine being TOLD she had to involve me, with all the pressure she was under, no wonder she didn’t want Procurement to screw it up.
Reluctantly at first, she invited me to a meeting, and I was relegated to the corner of the room. I didn’t even rank a seat at the table. I sat back and listened, gathered as much information as I could and asked a few questions so I could get up to speed. Weeks passed by and I continued to listen and to ask questions, no one had thought of. I went from “Optional Invite” to “Required Invite” at meetings. We started collaborating more and people on the team were asking for my input. I suddenly had earned my seat at the table and more.
It came time to negotiate the agreement with the supplier and we worked for weeks, together, sometimes late into the night, eating chips and pop for dinner, running on pure adrenaline. The executive now looked to me to lead parts of the discussion.
One night, the negotiations team, who consisted of this executive, her boss, the supplier representative and his boss, worked late into the night, driving hard to reach a final agreement. We had agreed on all but one major point. The two bosses on both sides separated themselves from us and were meeting one-on-one to try to agree on the last point. My business executive and I waited patiently in her office, hoping to hear good news.
Suddenly her boss came into her office and told her she was needed and to join their meeting. She hurried off and I sat there, alone in her office for what seemed only seconds when she came bursting back in and told me she was not doing this without me and that I needed to be in there with her.
What!?! “It doesn’t matter” I told her, “if this is what it takes to close the deal, go do it, I don’t matter.”
She would have none of it! She told me that no, I had worked hard on this, and I deserved to be in there.
In the end, we got the deal done and both sides were happy. She later relayed the colourful story about refusing to work with me.
I can’t tell you how humbling that experience was for me. To know I had proven my value and was seen as an integral part of that team when at first that executive refused to include Procurement, for fear we would screw up such an important project.
So is this selling procurement? I would say yes. Selling is simply demonstrating the value of your product or service. In my story I demonstrated the value of Procurement by proving I could listen, understand the problem that needed to be solved, being humble and ultimately gained the trust of the executive that I would deliver on my promises.
If you are a Procurement professional, remember to listen! Seek to understand the problem first before trying to solve it and last, remain humble enough to first build trust.
Need help transforming your procurement department into a trusted business partner driving value for your organization? Contact ProcurePro Consulting today!