In my experience, procurement and sales have a lot in common. Both are concerned with maximising profitability, whether through top-line growth delivered by sales, or bottom-line protection by procurement.
The shared goal of improving profitability is not the only similarity either. We share many competencies, ranging from negotiation techniques, category planning and stakeholder management to communication and influencing skills. By working together in the safety of our organisation and sharing these skills, we have the opportunity to gain a valuable insight into how the ‘other side of the table’ thinks and works.
For example, negotiation is typically the first thing that springs to mind when people think of procurement. This is an area where we can easily offer training and coaching to sales teams. Equally, how many times have we as procurement professionals been faced with a sales representative and thought to ourselves: “I can’t believe they just said/did that”? Understanding what buyers want and the kind of behaviour and values we appreciate can assist our sales
counterparts. Our inside knowledge can even be useful when they pitch to customers – potentially providing a competitive advantage.
But this help should not be one way. The art of procurement is in its infancy when compared with sales. For decades, sales representatives have been trained in the art of selling and have multiple techniques, insights and tools. In particular, their emotional intelligence and insight into the psychology of selling is an area where we can gain much. Procurement is now where sales was in the 1990s.
We are moving away from relying on toolkits and logical stepped approaches and beginning to supplement these with an understanding of the psychology of buying. This can be seen by the emphasis on communication and influencing skills in job adverts, often taking precedence over raw procurement skills.
Procurement can learn most from sales by its position in an organisation. Sales departments are often seen as one of the ‘sexiest’ functions. Why do managing directors respond to their needs and revere them? It’s largely because sales is great at selling itself internally as well as externally. They know how to speak the language of their internal customers.
I encourage procurement professionals to look at what makes sales functions gain influence, then borrow and steal shamelessly. We all need to become the sales people of procurement.
☛ See feature, A strained relationship
☛ Kelly Hawson is the head of indirect procurement at Napp Pharmaceuticals Holdings