The Professional Services Procurement Conundrum

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By William Johnson

All business support functions have been on an evolutionary path during the past 30 years but none of these journeys have been written about more voluminously than Procurement.

How to get a ‘seat at the table’; how to differentiate between ‘purchasing’ and ‘procurement’; how to buy on best value; how to source strategically; how to become an internal business partner and how to collaborate more effectively with suppliers are just some of the topics that have contributed to thousands of articles and millions of words.

Without doubt the role and remit of Procurement now carries much higher expectations within many organisations and in the most advanced of companies it will even be viewed as a potential competitive lever.

Why then do so many professional services firms still talk about their experiences with Procurement departments in such a negative light. “They only ask about price”; “They treat everyone the same”; “They don’t understand what they are buying”; “They don’t let us talk to the end users” are just some of the gripes that we often hear.

Generally speaking this is a perspective that contains a big dose of confirmation bias.

The ethos of professional services is that every company has their own flavour of ‘special’ and they win business by curating and leveraging stakeholder relationships to design and deliver tailored programmes of work around a situational need.  Anyone outside the direct firm to client/budget-holder relationship needs to be kept at arm’s length and any attempt by a third party to put guard rails around scope or price automatically triggers the immune system.

The problem with this point of view is that it is ultimately self-defeating.

Every client is different, and every procurement person/team will be different too. It is essential that professional service providers do not get blindsided by any perception that ‘one size fits all’ and that they adapt their engagement strategies accordingly.

It is a fact of business reality that organisations are now adopting a more rigorous approach to the way they assess and select suppliers, negotiate commercial terms and conditions and oversee/manage engagements in-life.  This activity is often being led by procurement professionals.

Rather than viewing a formal buying process as a barrier to be overcome, circumnavigated or even ignored, in this changing environment the successful firms will be the ones most ‘in tune’ with how their clients want to buy from them. This fundamentally means how well they understand, and can work effectively with, their clients’ procurement teams.

By viewing your clients’ procurement function as a potential advocate rather than an adversary will also deliver more than individual engagements.  If they view your organisation positively this could also turn them into a champion of your brand and an indirect lead generator.

From Adversary to Advocate: How to engage effectively with procurement professionals and turn them into brand champions

To help organisations make the necessary shift in their thinking we have created a one-day training programme for professional services and consulting firms.

Designed by a former Global Procurement Director for Consultancy and Professional Services of a leading FTSE 100 organisation and tailored specifically to your firm’s context – the programme will give your people the knowledge, skills and behaviours to work with procurement, not against them, to your firm’s advantage during the business development process.

In contrast to many business development training programmes devised from the seller’s viewpoint, this programme has been designed instead from the buyer’s perspective and therefore provides participants with a unique insight into the workings and mindset of this critical function from the inside-out.

The programme gives participants an understanding of the different ‘types’ of procurement buyers typically found in most organisations, enabling them to identify the decisive – but often hidden and unspoken – factors that motivate the final purchasing decision.

Only once participants understand the mind of the procurement professional, can they adapt their behaviours and approach accordingly.

The programme also provides participants with the frameworks – and associated behavioural confidence – to go beyond a focus on benefits, features and price in their proposals to articulating and illustrating ‘strategic value’ in every interaction with the organisation’s key buyers. This is critical if firms want to move beyond price as the determining factor in their negotiations with procurement.

If you would like more information about this Openside programme please contact us.

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