Why Procurement Needs to Learn How to Sell

Many working in procurement will think to themselves that they don't need to learn how to sell, I didn't for a very long time. Procurement is about buying stuff, right? What's that got to do with selling? Well, quite a lot actually.

Let's start with a definition of a sales process

"Set of steps aimed at initiating and supporting the identification and evaluation of likely customers (prospects), sales presentation, and successful conclusion of sales activities. It requires a close coordination of people, equipment, tools, and techniques, and includes advertising and promotion" (Businessdirectory.com)

Now, substitute:-

  • 'customers' with 'supplier'
  • 'sales presentation' with 'procurement sourcing strategy presentation'
  • 'sales activities' with 'procurement' activities'

The sales process can be seen to be merely the flip side of the coin to a strategic sourcing process.



However, if a sales or strategic sourcing process is followed exactly it should deliver very high results, depending on the quality of the process itself of course.  In practice, this certainly isn't the case, why?. (I'll be writing about the steps of a strategic sourcing process in my next post)

Unlike procurement where a budget is usually handed to the team or the department links in with budget holders from other areas of the organisation, it is sales that create the means to have a budget in the first instance. In other words; no sales, no customers and therefore no materials or services for procurement to purchase.

One of the essential qualities that a good salesman possesses that procurement would greatly benefit from is the power to influence and persuade others. Potentially these qualities have been focused on greatly in the sales environment for much longer than procurement for the reason mentioned above; no sales = no company. 

Stepping outside the workplace for a moment there are many opportunities to get the response you want from persuading and influencing others. The following are only a few examples of those that can benefit and why:-

  • Managers to motivate their teams
  • Leaders to inspire their vision
  • Parents to protect and encourage their children
  • Teachers to get their classes to commit to learning
  • Singles to impress potential partners!
  • Sales to seal the deal
  • Couples to strengthen and build their relationship
  • Job seekers to get that ideal job

From all these people from many walks of life procurement has to be seen to gain some benefit from learning this skill, right? Absolutely! Listed below are some areasand activities that will help procurement drive value in organisations, if they are skilled in this area:-

  • Sell innovative procurement strategies within the organisation
  • Actually, sell ANY good procurement idea within the organisation and challenge objections successfully
  • Negotiate with suppliers to arrive at the best value package
  • Deal with conflict resolution when problems occur with suppliers or internal stakeholders
  • Drive the success of the procurement department through motivation
  • Coach subordinates (or managers!) to build confidence and commitment

From the recent CIPS Salary Survey and Insights, David Noble (CIPS CEO) states that there is a "need to develop a network of relationships using more soft skills so that our professionals can be all things to all sectors".

Influencing and persuading is high up on the list of soft skills needed for a procurement department to achieve their targets and this can only be a good thing for the whole organisation's success!