I attend a fair number of conferences with procurement professionals. At some point, discussions turn to “getting a seat at the table” for projects at one’s company. In this respect, I have apparently been lucky. I’ve had most of the access I’ve wanted, most of the time. Or is it luck? Here are a few skills I believe the best procurement organizations possess that make them desired contributors to their companies.

1

Have cost component intelligence

Bids are great, but if you are going to negotiate, you need to understand what makes up the cost of the product or service you want to purchase. That means understanding your category. How much of your product is made up of raw
materials that are now under increased tariffs? How much is labor-based? What are the typical labor rates for the area where it is being made? How much consists of petroleum-based products? What percentage is offshore vs. onshore? This intelligence is used to find out what something *should* cost. I once had a CIO tell me that he got a product for $10,000 less than last year’s price. If he hadn’t overpaid by $50,000 last year, that would be worth celebrating! The lesson here is: know what you should be paying, before you start to negotiate what you are going to pay.

2

Show flexibility with requests

Be willing to review contracts, even if you didn’t help select them. Some days I do more risk mitigation than best practice procurement. Do the best you can for the company every day, the rest will take care of itself. Otherwise, see number five below.

3

Be a helpful team member

There are other groups that should be a part of the process in addition to procurement. Do you work with them? For instance, if someone is buying software, ask IT if they have seen it. If someone is working on branding, ask marketing if they have been involved. You might be surprised how willing they are to return the favor (you know, when they aren’t the buyer) and bring you in. The stronger message that this sends to your internal clients is that the people who need to see it will eventually see it regardless.

4

Make specific requests

One of the biggest missed opportunities I see is a weak answer to “How can we help?” or “What do you need from me?” Management asks this all the time, and the answer they are looking for is something specific, something proactive and useful they can do that doesn’t start with the phrase “Make it mandatory….” For instance, ask to sit in on the PMO funding meetings, or request a copy of the minutes of the meeting, or the project list. You could also ask to take part in the budget meetings, so you know what is being funded. Make it easy for them to say yes to your request, then make the most of it.

5

Provide constructive feedback

My favorite report is the missed opportunities report. It shows when the procurement group got involved in projects, then sets the expectation level for management regarding what is missed when you come in further and further
down the line. If you want to have some fun with it, do an overlay, pinpointing who is within budget for the period and who isn’t. At the end of the day, our job in procurement is to help clients make informed choices.

A few tweaks to your sales approach (yes, we really are all in sales), and you too will find yourself sitting at the table, instead of counting the money left on it.