The Pipeline Blog on Selling to Procurement
In this week’s Flip Side coverage, I want to take you through a sales-oriented post from a blog called The Pipeline on ‘Selling to Procurement’. The Pipeline is written by Tibor Shanto, Founder and President of Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., and creator of Objective Based Selling.
In my opinion, the post starts out with a rather nasty take on what it is like for sales to deal with procurement, but if you hold your temper and make it through the article, you’ll see that the author gradually but cleverly turns the situation around to prove the value of procurement in the buying process, particularly when they are well aligned with finance. I’ll give you an idea of where it starts with the following quote:
“There is no minimizing the impact they [procurement] have on sales and the success of sales professionals. Sales professionals are constantly looking for ways to sell to these procurement folks, that special technique or special words that will help them overcome this perceived hurdle. How do we sell to Procurement? A question we hear over and over.
Well the bad news is there is no special incantation, technique or anything else that will magically change this “bad” reality. These people are there because they have the skills needed to succeed in their task.”
So from a sales perspective, procurement is not only an additional touch point to deal with at a prospective client, we are harder to deal with – or at least harder to figure out – than the contacts they are accustomed to. Relationship selling models have taught sales professionals to find their internal customer and focus their attention on that person. In most cases, this person will be the one who managed the contract after it is signed. Adding procurement to the mix breaks that traditional chain and the processes that go with it.
In an effort to be sympathetic, I can appreciate how disruptive that change is to a sales professional, both in the sense of throwing off their pipeline and also in that it forces them to change their professional habits. A procurement professional has a different relationship with the product or service in question than someone whose job is tied directly to the contract. According to the post author, this is actually an advantage procurement brings to the table.
“Often, as sales people we sell to individuals within a company, but those same individuals are unable to sell the ‘powers that be’, unable to show that there is a company need, rather than a nice to have. No matter how nice it may be for that one individual, they are unable to present a case that the benefit serves the broader need of the company, and as a result the initiative dies.”
So if procurement has the vision and the experience to communicate the supplier’s solution to the rest of the company in terms of overall goals, that supplier actually stands a better chance of closing a deal. And like internal initiatives that are best led with a ‘top down’ approach, effective sales people have also recognized the benefit that comes from a procurement group that reports into Finance.
“Our client was able to elevate their sale, and by engaging the CFO and positioning the decision to other criteria, found a real Champion when it came to procurement, the procurement director’s boss: the CFO. It is not easy, it does take work, not only in hunting down the right people and getting in front of them, but also in reinventing how you position and pitch your service and value to a client/prospect.”
So what are procurement’s take-aways from this post?
- As you deal with suppliers for the first time, acknowledge the change in the process and the adjustments or additional work it may mean for them. Make sure they see the benefits, both to your company and to them, of having procurement involved (such as the ear of the CFO).
- Clarify the role that the historical contact point will have in the sourcing, negotiation, and decision-making process. This can serve as an opportunity to put a supplier’s mind at ease as well as to identify times and topics where it is not appropriate for the supplier to have contact with other members of the project team. (As an aside, it may also be an opportunity to clarify roles and responsibilities in front of the supplier and internal team member at the same time – especially if you anticipate pushback).
- Deliver on the value that you describe to your company and to the suppliers. If procurement is supposed to express all supplier proposals to a decision making team in such a way that corporate objectives are addressed, do that. If you promise to help suppliers tailor their proposals or better understand category goals, do it. Everyone will benefit in the long run.
If you like the idea of our The Flip Side coverage, there is an event this week that we recommend. Being held on Thursday afternoon, ValueSelling Associates presents ‘Closing the Gap: Your Sales Process and their Buying Process.” In this event, VSA will look at the differences in timing and expectations between the supplier and buyer sides of the procurement process. I plan to attend and will share my notes in next week’s Flip Side post.