How Procurement Professionals Can Win Over Reluctant Internal Customers

Last month, I published Part I of this post.  In Part I, I said that “it takes at least two very important things to convince [reluctant internal customers] to let the procurement department get involved” in their areas of spend:  benefits and proof.

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In Part I, I talked about the first item, benefits.  In this Part II, I’ll talk about proof.

If there is one truism in internal customer relations, it is this:  internal customers think that the procurement department can only screw up their operations by getting involved.

Sorry if that is a bit frank, but that is the perspective of a great many internal customers of procurement departments.  By communicating the benefits specific to internal customers of allowing procurement department involvement, you may begin to change internal customers’ perception, but it takes more than that.

It takes proof.

Proof that you won’t screw up their operations.

So, how can you prove that?

Well, it’s best if you have a well-documented track record of your success of not only succeeding at applying procurement best practices to a new area of spend, but also not screwing up the operations of the stakeholders of that area of spend.  You want to be able to demonstrate that you’ve worked with other internal customers with the same concerns and, ultimately, they ended up being glad that they trusted you because their world is so much better now that you entered it.

After reading Part I, you know the benefits of procurement involvement in the eyes of the internal customer, now you need to document real-world examples of how you actually brought those benefits to other internal customers.  Imagine an internal customer writing this:

“I really thought that we had our operations down to a science, so I was very tentative towards the idea of the procurement department coming in and changing things that, to me, appeared to be running smoothly.  But, my fears were unfounded.  The procurement department was very sensitive to my concerns.   They made sure that our key processes were not disrupted.  Then, they did the unexpected:  they relieved us of some of the most time-consuming parts of our jobs that aren’t core to what our department does, they made our lives easier by setting us up with suppliers who don’t give us headaches, and they saved our department budget money that can be deployed on some other things that we have been hoping to do.  I never thought that I’d say this, but I am so glad that we teamed up with the procurement department!”

Think about how that could help you break down the barriers to working with a reluctant internal customer.  Well, testimonials like this are part of the “proof” that I talk about you needing in order to get cooperation.

Have you made the connection?  That using a testimonial like this is something a new supplier would do in an effort to win a contract award from you?

If you have, that’s good!  Because this proof thing requires that you think like a supplier’s marketing department.

What else does a supplier’s marketing department do in an effort to persuade you to choose that supplier over a competitor?

There are definitely some techniques that can be adapted to what I’ll call procurement department marketing.  I’ll discuss a few of these principles now…

One of the things you may have thought of is providing references.  If you’ve been in procurement any decent amount of time, I’m sure you asked suppliers to provide references to give you some assurance that their promises are more than mere puffery.

You can use references to sell the procurement department’s “services,” too!

Who in the organization can a reluctant internal customer call to receive assurance that the procurement department can really help them in the manner promised?  Those are the people you need to build strong relationships with so that you can have them go to bat for you when another internal customer has an aversion to working with you.

There are plenty more examples of these type of supplier marketing tactics that you can adapt to marketing your procurement department – and I encourage you to think of more – but I’ll leave you with one final aspect of proof that you need to have in your arsenal.

That aspect of proof is what I call a “portfolio of examples.”

A portfolio of examples is a collection of documents that demonstrate your success stories with helping internal customers through your procurement work.  Sure, it should include information about meeting or exceeding classic procurement goals like cost savings but, ideally, it should provide plenty of examples of how you helped internal customers with the things that are most important to them.

Testimonials, references, and a portfolio of examples.  These things comprise the type of proof that you need to convince internal customers to allow you to get involved.

If you don’t have this proof already, don’t worry…you have to start somewhere.  So, go delight those internal customers, build great relationships, and document your success.

Before you know it, internal customers may beat you to the punch and ask you to get involved in their spend even before you identify the opportunity to approach them!

 

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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