DeltaBid welcomes this guest post from Jack Quarles, an expense management specialist. The second in a four-part series, this article discusses how procurement professionals can become trusted advisors in their organizations.
The Holy Grail for Salespeople (and Everyone Else)
Which would you rather be: a salesperson, or a trusted advisor?
This is a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is a prized target for countless sales professionals: being sought out by prospects and customers as someone who can help solve problems. The opposite—being seen as the stereotypical salesman—implies an unrewarding slog, begging for attention so someone will buy what you offer.
But the salesperson/advisor question isn’t just for people with “sales” in their title. It applies to intra-company relationships as well, and highlights a central challenge for procurement and sourcing professionals. Too often these experts are viewed as position players—internal vendors who perform a specific function.
“You need to find the right software tool… talk to procurement.”
“It’s time to negotiate with your vendor… get sourcing.”
At the simplest level, procurement is seen as the team who helps you get stuff you need to do your work. Good procurement helps identify quality vendors and products, and saves money along the way.
Advanced procurement is supposed to help take vendor relationships to the next level… beyond simple transactions to deeper partnership and increasing value. But can procurement really help its internal clients see vendors as partners if those same users don’t even view their procurement colleagues that way? This challenge presents an opportunity for procurement teams to elevate their status and increase their value.
The First Question: What is Your Goal?
Repositioning starts with the first conversation. The labels “procurement” and “sourcing” both imply that the function’s primary role is to acquiring external materials or services. So the traditional first question from procurement to its clients is: “what do you need?”
The better question is: “What are you trying to accomplish?” or “What is your goal?” The emphasis should not be on the resources that the buyer needs, but rather on the results she is trying to achieve. That simple shift in the beginning of a project can radically transform not just the relationship with internal customers, but procurement’s overall function and value. Consider the impact of focusing on goals:
A Goal Focus Advances Strategy
A focus on results instead of resources can transform procurement from a glorified supply closet to an active champion for corporate goals. Defining project goals may reveal misalignment or an opportunity for clarification. If a planned expense doesn’t support a company’s priorities, then procurement would be serving the company well to challenge the project.
A Goal Focus Encourages Innovation
Part of procurement’s function is to bring innovation into the company, but order-takers don’t foster innovation. When a buyer spells out the specific means of attaining their goals, they may shut out better options. On the other hand, when the project changes from “we need a printer for our marketing brochures” to “we’re looking for the best way to communicate with our prospects,” there are new possibilities of solutions: outsourcing, automation, electronic media, and more. (More on this in the next article, about Building Options.)
A Goal Focus Leads to a Longer Relationship
When procurement is engaged at the goal level, results are defined differently. The job isn’t simply delivering the right product, vendor, and contract and then tossing it over the fence. What ultimately matters is the business outcome that the buyer is able to achieve. Success it not measured by the speed of the project or the savings achieved, but by business impact.
A Different Relationship
Partnership means working together toward a shared goal. If procurement is relegated to obtaining resources at a good price, they are not in partnership with the internal buyer but are simply providing a service. By focusing on the goal, procurement comes alongside the buyer and takes some ownership of the outcome. Being a trusted advisor instead of a simple service provider brings more responsibility; it’s also more valuable and much more fun.
Sourcing professionals are often a gateway to company resources, and as such they are uniquely positioned to add value by aligning projects and purchases with company goals. Consider your current projects: are you delivering resources, or results?
The next article addresses another area where procurement and sourcing can lead the company: building options.
About the author: Jack Quarles
Jack Quarles is a speaker, consultant, and author of #1 bestsellers How Smart Companies Save Money and Same Side Selling, as well as the upcoming Expensive Sentences. He has saved companies tens of millions of dollars over two decades in the field of expense management, and often advises on RFPs, vendor selection, and outsourcing decisions. Jack is a founder of Xigo and Buying Excellence and serves on the board of Peacemaker Ministries. Jack has received degrees from Yale University and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business.