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What makes a great procurement professional?

13 December 2012 | Paul Vincent

I regularly run training sessions where I help service providers to better understand the role of procurement. I also help them to distinguish between the different types of procurement individual they are likely to encounter and how to engage most positively with them. Whenever I am asked: “What makes a great procurement professional?” I reply: “They think and act like a business person in a procurement role.” But what does that really mean? One of my clients recently asked me to elaborate on that description and here is the result, my A-Z of great qualities in a procurement professional.

A. Ambitious

A great procurement professional wants to be known for helping to make things happen. For example, they will not be satisfied just being led towards a procurement need. Instead, they will want to proactively support their internal stakeholders in shaping and defining what that need looks like.

B. Business-orientated

They will tailor their approach to meet the business need of their internal stakeholders and won’t expect the stakeholder to define their need around a procurement process.

C. Challenging

A great procurement professional feels comfortable questioning and challenging their internal stakeholders. They will always do so appropriately and in a way that demonstrates their commitment to supporting the required business outcomes.

D. Dynamic

They will not wait until they are invited or asked. They will set the pace for others to follow and consciously demonstrate their value during all stages of the buying process.

E. Efficient

They eradicate every non-value-adding step in the buying process, for both internal stakeholders and suppliers. They will do everything possible to keep the cost of sale low and then work openly with the supply market to translate these benefits into improved commercial terms.

F. Facilitative

They know when to facilitate, when to lead – and when to butt out. Once a contract has been let, they will help to ‘orchestrate’ the achievement of business outcomes and not simply ‘police’ the commercial terms. 

G. Grounded

They are realistic. They don’t own the budgets. They don’t own the targets. They don’t own the problems. They are there to support stakeholder success.

H. Holistic

They know the big picture is always more important than a surface short-term win. For example, an internal stakeholder will never say: “The company and the quality was rubbish, but thanks to procurement you negotiated an amazingly low price.” 

I. Inspirational

A great procurement professional is a role model to others. Their working style, attitude and overall approach will inspire confidence in their ability and will naturally invite their involvement at every stage of the buying process. 

J. Joined up

They work behind the scenes with their internal stakeholders to ensure they present a united front to the supply market.  

K. Know-how

They have strong credentials and a successful track record of delivery. They will be knowledgeable about their organisation and regarded as a key ‘go to’ person.

L. Lateral

They search far and wide for commercial and competitive advantage on behalf of their organisation. They will be vigilant to new and innovative sources of supply and do whatever they can to advocate these alternative approaches with their stakeholders.

M. Maximum

They never recommend second best. They will always provide their internal stakeholders with their thoughts and experience on what ‘good might look like’ and a view on the options for achieving it.

N. Neutral

They deal in facts, not conjecture or perception. They seek evidence before acting and listen without prejudice.

O. Open-minded

A great procurement professional uses their own and the past experiences of others to help inform their recommendations about the future, but they will not assume that the past will automatically predict the future.

P. Pragmatic

They focus on the here and now. They recognise that the context behind every buying situation will be potentially different in some way and they will take account of those differences before taking or recommending action.

Q. Qualified

A great procurement professional qualifies themselves by the words they use, the actions they take and value they bring, not by what courses they may have done. They do not believe that you need to be a ‘professionally trained’ procurement person to buy something well, they just know that to buy something well you need to be ‘professional’ in how you go about it.

R. Resolute

They don’t get easily blown off course from a route that they believe to be the right one. They argue their case soundly and determinedly and base their arguments on whatever they believe constitutes the best business outcome.

S. Strategic

A great procurement professional understands the need to build momentum with short-term gains, but their primary focus is on delivering strategic and sustainable improvements for their organisation. Ultimately, that is what always wins out.

T. Trustworthy

They do what they say they will, when they say they will. Although they will naturally seek commercial and competitive advantage during negotiations, they will be always be genuine in their dealings with the other side.  

U. Understanding

A great procurement professional speaks from a position of knowledge. They understand enough about what they are buying to recognise true cause and effects during negotiations. They know which contract variables will make the biggest difference to a successful business outcome and they will make sure those variables are sufficiently addressed in the final agreement. 

V. Value focused

They buy the right things, at the right time, from the right supplier, at the right price.

W. Win-win

A great procurement professional seeks commercial terms that can deliver the required business outcomes while still enabling the chosen supplier to make a reasonable return on the contract and remain totally motivated to deliver as required.

X. X-ray

They know when to look under the surface of a proposal. They instinctively know how much validation will be required to ensure that the benefits being offered can be fully realised.

Y. Yes

A great procurement professional knows that the easiest word to say during the buying process is “no”. However, they also understand that saying “no” will not always create the best commercial and contractual environment for the required business outcomes. Procurement is not a sport. For instance, saying “yes” to dialogue between suppliers and budget holders is a good thing if properly facilitated. Fuller disclosure during a bidding process might generate a more thorough proposal. Being honest about the true opportunity to win the business will ensure that the right service providers put sufficient thought into their offer.

Z. Zero

A great procurement professional knows everything has a cost and nothing is ever totally free. For example, companies prepared to be paid on contingent terms only will be convinced there will be a positive outcome. Zero is often an artificial proposition and a great procurement professional is mindful of how they deal with it.

After I presented this to my client, he asked: “Does such a professional exist?” I replied: “Of course they do.” Most of the characteristics are attitudinal and behavioural, so you can choose whether or not to do them. Go on, resolve to be a great procurement professional, starting today.

☛ Paul Vincent is vice president consulting at 100% Effective

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