As somebody who had worked his entire career on the other side of the table, knocking on doors and cold-calling in the hope people with buying power would spend money with me, in my early years I often thought how great it would be to just spend, instead of continually trying to justify and convince others to spend with me.
Over the years I have noticed some commonly held misconceptions from people outside the sector who don’t have a deep understanding of Procurement, Buying or Purchasing. One I’ve regularly encountered is the assumption that Procurement must be great fun and simple, as you’re just spending money – how hard can it be? Of course this is not the case, and the paradox is that a lot of procurers dream about not having to be the ones making these often complex decisions.
As I have now worked with the Purchasing and Procurement sector for a few years, I feel it my duty to highlight what makes a great Purchasing or Procurement professional. So to dispel these myths and give guidance to anybody thinking about making a move into the industry, here are some characteristics I’ve noticed great Purchasing and Procurement Managers share.
- Attention to Detail
I spoke with the owner of a manufacturing company recently and he told me a story about their previous Project Buyer who had been tasked with sourcing some metal plates. The plates came through perfectly to the right specification in every shape or form except the finish on the metal, which as a result meant they were unusable. The buyer had not been told to source a specific finish but ultimately had purchased the wrong product, and as a result a large part of the blame sat with them. This might seem a simple mistake, but I think it emphasises the fact that not only the importance of considering every aspect of a product being sourced needing to be correct, but also the need and understanding that it’s their responsibility as the person with sign off to make sure they have been told everything they need to know to ensure the product meets the need of the business.
- Amazing Time Management
If a product or service is not in place, then business processes dependent on it may not be able to proceed to their next stages, which can cause delays and difficulties that resonate throughout the business. As a result the pressure of ensuring something is not only fit for purpose but there in place and on time is often passed onto the purchasing or procurement professional in place. Simple huh? Perhaps if there’s just one thing you’re buying – however multiply this by 50 and across varying business sectors, the need to manage tenders and such like and all of a sudden this is a whole different ball game. Good buying professionals need to be able to manage other peoples’ time and their own and factor in tolerance for delays.
- Suffer No Fools
We’ve all had the wool pulled over our eyes before, and there will always be companies out there trying to sell products not fit for purpose. Buying a jumper off ebay or booking a holiday only affects the person doing the buying. Yet when these are key high value business buys you really need to be very astute, diligent and make sure every legal and professional requirement is covered and protected. Do you want to be the person responsible for everybody’s software not being fit for purpose? Do you want to be the person that spends £50,000 with a company that can’t fulfil the need? Nobody does, but these are scenarios a Procurement Manager can find themselves in every day if they don’t keep their eye on the ball.
- Relationship Building & Enforcement of Supply Terms
It would be excusable to feel that once a supplier has been selected that the job is almost finished, but this is not the reality. Once suppliers are in place and feel they have secured their win by getting on the roster, or having commitment that they will be getting certain business, it’s not uncommon for them to take their eye off of the ball. A great procurement or purchasing professional will have to manage these relationships and ensure everything that’s promised is delivered over and above expectation. The great purchasing professionals will always do this through making their suppliers want to do the best they can, as nine times out of ten, you won’t get the best from people without being somebody that people want to deliver over and above for. However sometimes if goods or services are not fit for purpose a line needs to be drawn, and great procurement professionals will know when to cut the niceties and enforce the needs of the business.
Just because you’re buying doesn’t mean you don’t have to negotiate. Sometimes the power will be in your hands with this; especially if you have suppliers champing at the bit to give a readily available service in a buyers’ market. However other times you might be looking for a very specific product and be dealing with knowledgeable salesmen not willing to come down on price without a fight. A great buying professional will know when to play their hand strong, and when to play it fair: if you need something then you have to come back with it. It’s no good alienating key suppliers by attempting to drive their prices into an area they’re not comfortable with, or worse still driving the price so low you don’t get the service you really want and need. You want the best deals out there but at the same time you also want the best service where you can, toeing this line is not always easy.
I think when you’re looking at the procurement sector from the outside, it’s easy to underestimate the pressure and expectation on the people who businesses rely on to provide materials and services in a timely, efficient and cost-effective manner. Along with this few people grasp how mistakes and failure in this can resonate throughout teams, affecting peoples’ ability to do their jobs and hit their own milestones and targets. So next time you’re thinking how nice it would be to spend and not sell, perhaps spare a thought for the people sitting on the other side of the table. Who knows, maybe it might help you close that deal.
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