'In the end, Procurement is the problem!' .... Really?

Recently I was working with a group of Key Account Managers, discussing how they saw their customers' professional buyers. I explained how both the sales and procurement communities often stereotyped each other. Like every persistent stereotype, both had an element of truth in them. For example, a sales person could be justified in thinking that many Procurement buyers were only interested in getting the lowest price, based on their experience. Equally, a Procurement professional would not be wrong to complain that many sales people are focused on making sale as quickly as possible - they see this every day.

The debate that followed was good, so I was dismayed to hear one of the participants summarise the discussion with 'maybe we make mistakes, but in the end Procurement is the problem...' to general support of her colleagues. On reflection, I should not have been surprised with that statement. It neatly captures the sense of powerlessness that many KAMs feel when confronted with a strong professional Buyer or Procurement process. One KAM described it as feeling like being in a foreign land, with little understanding of the language and then trying to sell your story by telephone.

As they say 'perception is reality'. The KAMs experienced Procurement's behaviour as disrespectful and disinterested in looking at the value package they were trying to communicate. On the other side of the table, the Buyers had perceived the KAMs as lazy because they were not communicating in terms that the Buyer could understand. A classic case of miscommunication. But who was this hurting the most? Who needed to find a way to resolving this? Clearly this was a KAM problem: the Buyer had control over the budget, the requirements and had multiple vendors to choose from.

This is illustrative of a dangerous trap many sales professionals can fall into. Having spent much time 'wiring' the business users of their products/services, they can unconsciously look at Procurement as merely an administrative 'obstacle' or policy 'gatekeeper', rather than a fully-fledged customer stakeholder who needs to be researched, understood and serviced. Even if they do understand this, often the KAM simply doesn't know how to do this, especially if the he/she is unaware there are three types of Procurement, each with a different way of working with suppliers.

It is this widespread KAM problem that prompted us to develop the QuarterMaster™ program as a way of significantly reducing this 'Pain of Procurement'. The program teaches a specific framework to prepare the KAM overcome this critical challenge. The curriculum is structured as follows:

  1. Understand the barriers to success with Procurement
  2. Segment your customer's Procurement needs
  3. Identify/gather the knowledge your Buyer expects from you
  4. Understand Procurement methods/approaches to make your pitch relevant
  5. Identify how your customer chooses suppliers
  6. Prove your understanding over six weeks with a defined customer of your choice

We do this in small in-company groups (5-8), with one highly interactive offsite training day and a subsequent 6 week remote coaching period. Our participants have given us high ratings for both content, delivery and support. It has also helped them realise that it is not Procurement which is the problem, but themselves. That is great news, because although you can't fix someone else, you can fix yourself!

- WMH