A topic that’s rarely discussed in procurement publications and reports is how sales organizations can begin to apply tactics to either break sourcing processes or benefit from them. I have known a number of sourcing consultants over the years that have also hung their shingle on the sales-sides of the house, usually in specific, high-dollar events where they’ve been hired to develop tactics to interfere with strategic sourcing approaches — or to more subtly turn them on their head, if you will. Another angle is how procurement organizations can help educate their revenue-generating counter-parties in the organization. I was recently reminded of this reading a guest post on Procurement Leadersby A.T. Kearney’s Stephen Easton, where he observers that “some recent experiences of supplier behaviour and sales techniques have got me thinking: after over twenty years of strategic sourcing and the continued upgrading of procurement capability, one would have thought that sales functions would now be well versed in how to approach tender/RFP processes in a way that showcases their organisation in the most effective light.”
But of course this is rarely the case. Easton then muses, “this got me wondering whether these organisations could benefit much more from closer collaboration between procurement and sales. Can procurement educate their own sales functions more about how to approach a procurement process? Do the sales functions recognise that they need the help?” Getting to some real-world examples, Easton suggests that such activities might involve “sharing insight on how a tender/RFP process works and how responses are typically evaluated” or “advising on how to influence the process for the benefit of both parties in ways that will not lead to a breach.”
To these suggestions, I might also add the importance of understanding what type of supplier they might be perceived to be in a given tender — and how important incumbency may or may not be an element that factors into the decision one way or the other. Procurement can also help sales to understand when they should invest the most time in an opportunity based on signals that may indicate where a buying organization is in its evaluation process (e.g., is a new supplier addition an afterthought or simple “column fodder,” or will their questions and guidance be taken under consideration at an earlier stage?).
Without question, sales and procurement need to come together more. I’ve always contended that a good procurement person would likely be an ideal candidate for sales — and vice versa. From a procurement angle, even if you’re doing this “pro bono” inside your company, consider it an education angle that could pay dividends should you ever sit on the other side of the organizational fence. And learn from your sales counterparts in the process as well!
Stephen is a partner of A.T. Kearney Management Consultants. He has consulted widely to clients in the private and public sectors across a range of procurement topics both in the UK and internationally over the past decade.