Procurement professionals know just about every sales trick in the book. How can we turn these tricks to our advantage in business partnering?
As a procurement pro, you’ve seen it all – the pitches, the gaffes, the strategies, the crash and burns. You also have your long list of personal success stories – the sales people, and sales strategies, you have personally unraveled and re-engineered to meet your company’s needs.
But then there have also been the spectacular defeats, where an absolute master of the sales spin has left you feeling like mere putty in their hands.
These negotiation experiences have, perhaps unknowingly, left us with a rich repertoire of successful sales techniques, which we really should be leveraging to master our own destiny.
We need to leverage these important sales learnings, and improve how we ‘sell’ our services into our own organisations, in order to master the art of ‘business partnering’.
Procurement Business Partnering
Fortunately, I am able to call on the collective thinking of a dozen of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies as I ponder this question, because business partnering has been the hot topic at the last few Productivity in Pharma Think tank sessions.
The discussions have focused on what skills and characteristics lead to successful business partnering, and those skills that help the procurement function become a ‘connector’ inside and outside the company.
How to be Liked
But going back to my story, let’s look at what we have learned from the best salespeople we know, and how we can adapt this to our approach to business partnering.
Be a “playmaker” – Let’s face it, you have probably genuinely “liked” the salespeople who have been most successful in convincing you to buy from them.
So how do you go about getting your stakeholders to “like” you and “buy into” the service you are offering? Some global procurement teams are actually applying a bit of science to this challenge.
Heads of Procurement know, like many other things in life, if you get the relationship right, everything else will follow.
Novartis, for example, uses a very sophisticated business partnering framework. The first step of this is “knowledge of self”, whereby each procurement executive completes a personality profile analysis. These profiles are then considered against the stakeholder to find the “perfect match” for the business partnering relationship.
Stakeholder engagement skills are also become an increasingly important part of the procurement recruitment process. Heads of Procurement are looking for a somewhat elusive set of skills that will orchestrate the supply network and create a vital link between the various functions in the company.
They are looking for executives who can create that all-important “bond” with their internal stakeholders, as well as their supply base.
Giles Breault of The Beyond Group says, “If you are going to write ‘business partnering’ on your CV then you must have these skills: the ability to engage and speak the language of your internal customer; the ability to lead projects as an equal partner; and intrapreneurial skills that help you operate like you are the CEO of your own business.”
Applying Sales Tricks
The “Play Maker” is a personality profile identified in the Game Changer Index (GC Index). This type of person is interested in people and relationships. They take the view that how well things get done in organisations will reflect the quality of relationships.
As the Game Changers would say, procurement teams wanting to improve their internal business engagement should look for people who “get a buzz” from the challenges of managing the process of influence, or those people who see themselves as a potent agent of change.
But once we have recruited the right skill set and matched up the personalities as best we can, we need to revert back to those all-important learnings from our sales friends on the other side of the table. Namely:
Remember why we have two ears and one mouth – The best salespeople listen more than they talk. Is your procurement team remembering this important 2:1 ratio when they interact with your stakeholders? I suspect that most procurement teams could benefit from listening more to their stakeholders and really understanding their business needs.
Fight the battle on the number of fronts – As we all know, the best salespeople have a multi-level account plan. They align the various levels of people within their team with the decision makers within their customer’s organisation.
They implement a consistent, tenacious plan and stay on message to achieve their goals. Does your procurement team have an account plan for your stakeholders? Do they stay “on message”? Are they focused on sticking to the plan?
Have single point accountability – This was a topic raised at a dinner hosted by Lucy Harding at executive recruiters, Odgers Berndtson, in London late last month. Most organisations can’t afford to have a separate role, or full time staff member, dedicated to business partnering.
Delighting the customer needs to be part of everyone’s role, but who is ultimately accountable for satisfying each internal customer needs to be made clear.
Have a story to tell – a USP – Procurement spends a huge amount of time listening to the unique selling proposition (USP) of its sales people and suppliers. We need to craft our own stories about our service, how we can help the business, and why we will drive value for stakeholders.
Ultimately, it’s about making our stakeholders, (who are really our customers), feel the love. As I wrote in a previous blog, building credibility, listening to our customers, and translating this into knowing what they do and don’t want, is critical for the process of business partnering.
The Productivity in Pharma Think Tank brings together a conclave of senior procurement leaders from the Pharmaceutical industry, creating a unique, mini-MBA style environment, where the most pressing issues facing the function are explored in detail and, from which, key insights and applicable takeaways are derived.