One of my favorite sales blogs is, ‘The Sales Blog’ written by S. Anthony Iannarino. He is a sales executive and coach that believes in the value sales people can add during the buying process. Since we are mentioning him this week on the Flip Side, I’d also like to extend our congratulations to him on recently hitting a milestone 1,000 posts.
In a recent post titled, ‘What I Have Against the New Buying Process’ Anthony voices his concerns about the change in timing for suppliers being invited to join the process. Here is a quick rundown on his viewpoint:
- Sales is being kept out of the process until after all of the objectives and requirements have been determined.
- This timing shift prevents sales from accessing the critical window for serving as an advisor to prospective clients.
- Sales professionals should not give up on pursuing opportunities to build trust with their ‘dream clients’.
From a procurement perspective, there are some challenges presented by this information. The first is that it is difficult to have more than one (maybe two) trusted supplier advisors for each sourcing project. So even though one supplier is not chosen to serve as an advisor early in the process, it doesn’t mean that another sales person isn’t in that role. It is a good reminder, however, that non-incumbent suppliers are willing to help early in the process. If the incumbent supplier is not cooperating or providing the kind of advice you need, seek out a second opinion.
The other main challenge is that many procurement organizations make the mistake early in their lifecycle to allow their objectives and requirements to be driven by a supplier (incumbent or otherwise) so that without realizing it, we’ve eliminated their competition from contention by defining our requirements to match their spec. Once you’ve made that mistake, it is hard to let suppliers back in early without being so skeptical of their advice that it is rendered useless. One answer is to get advice from enough suppliers that no one is driving your requirements… but then that sounds like just starting the sourcing process.
I am a believer in the value of the Request for Information (or RFI). Whenever possible, I find it a high-value step in the sourcing process, both for information collection and process efficiency. One of the points Anthony made in his blog applies to procurement just as much as to sales, and that is not to miss the critical window for relationship building discussions. In speaking to sales, he makes the point that it is difficult to objectively advise and sell, and once you are in an active sourcing process, the drive to sell takes over.
The same is true for procurement. Once we are actively sourcing, it is hard to trust the advice given by any supplier. The idea then, is to run an RFI a month or even a quarter before a sourcing project is slated to kick off. If you are not in ‘sourcing mode’ for the spend category, you will have the time and flexibility to request and internalize feedback from suppliers. Sounds unrealistic to collect information before it is absolutely necessary, you say?
Think about the time you’ll save once the project does kick off. Since it is never advisable to contact suppliers without stakeholders and contract managers being in the loop, you can ‘double-bill’ the time as building goodwill internally as well. They may have their own thoughts on the category that would have been passed over in order to keep a tight sourcing project timeline. So better results, happier team members, AND a chance to think. Maybe the ‘New Buying Process’ just got a little better.