When I started my career in procurement, my colleagues would often tell me, and in some ways inculcate fear in me, that I should get ready because working in this area would turn me into a mix between a firefighter, analyst, politician, and a consultor; what they never mentioned was that in some occasions I would have to become a babysitter as well.

Many have probably lived through similar experiences as mine, experiences involving internal clients (IC) that are reluctant to follow company policy or procedures for the acquisition of goods and services; some simply because they ignore the process and others because they deliberately don’t like to go through the formal channels.

These situations are very stressful and require composure, so in order to win some of these internal clients over, we have to hold ourselves from saying some of those nice adjectives that we would love to vocalize, and start showing them the light at the end of the procurement tunnel.

In my experience, and trying to avoid sounding like a wildlife documentary narrator, this particular type of internal client is usually found in highly technical areas; they are almost exclusively involved in their specific science and don’t often interact with procurement. This internal client is someone who works or has worked at a company that has a basic procurement structure that is mostly transactional in nature; they have a habit of working directly with vendors, negotiating for themselves, establishing rules, and even signing agreements with no power of attorney and of course, bypassing legal (it’s amazing and dangerous that some vendors even accept this).

Unfortunately, the most common approach to getting introduced to this kind of internal clients is from above, their direct superior, who will just command the IC to work with procurement from now on, resulting in some rejection from the beginning. Definitely not a good way to start a work relationship.

As you can see I am generalizing a bit, every person and situation is different and your approach for connecting with them might vary, but in general it is important for the internal client to see you as someone who adds value, that your role will simplify theirs and bring in substantial know how into the relationship; as soon as you are able to demonstrate that your presence will help them save time, things should improve considerably.

To start implementing this change, we don’t want to come off as an aggressive invader, so we can discard the idea of going to his superior for a “do what you are told” speech. An alternative plan might be to have a pre-planned meeting (with the IC’s superior’s blessing and alignment) that involves “selling” procurement to the internal client and his superior at the same time. If the IC sees that he is being involved from the beginning in this change process and also witnesses his superior starting to get on board with the idea, then you would have successfully reduced the friction of transitioning things to procurement. The work from here forward should be somewhat less tragic.

Since nothing is this simple or effective, in some situations it will require that you help this transition go even smoother, meaning you have to get him involved in some sourcing instances that you normally wouldn’t. This sense of involvement will definitely help generate trust between you and the internal client by opening the opportunity to share a couple of good sourcing tips such as how to approach specific vendors or situations, benchmark insights etc.

I would also recommend you accept some tips from the IC as well, as these gestures will definitely show that you are not here to show off or preach; you might even get surprised and learn something new.

Finally, talk to the vendors about the new rules of engagement with the IC’s, find time to periodically align with these internal clients, work on the strategy and approach you want to take as a team prior to meeting and negotiating with suppliers, something as portraying a variation of good cop, bad cop with a supplier might help strengthen the relationship and trust.

In summary, properly identifying these internal clients and trying to have a more collaborative approach will definitely get you further, you want to avoid being to invasive, especially when some of these IC’s have been doing the same things for a long time. Change is hard for all of us, but not impossible, if you work to make it simple for them then you will be capable of achieving this change. Just remember that at some point everyone had to learn how to deal with PC’s and emails; procurement shouldn’t be harder than that, and who knows, you might end up with a new drinking buddy.
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Jose Schneider

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