The Simplest of Questions For Supply Chain Managers

Sales and operations planning is a well-documented and mature process.

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Editor’s Note: Jim Baehr is the Lead for the Sourcing Strategies Group LLC (SSG)

“Do your Procurement professionals spend any time with your Sales professionals sharing best practices?”

This is a question I've been asking during client engagements for the past two decades. It's simple and direct. The answer is likewise simple and direct - “no”.

Sometimes it's enhanced with “no, but it's an interesting idea”. So, if the answer is often “no” why even ask? Because, for me, it's a mystery why the combined knowledge and experience of these two critical functions, within the same company, seldom come together to share information on the state of the market or best practices. Full disclosure, I have a bias.

Not only have I been in Supply Management for more than two decades, I also spent more than a decade in Sales. I've been on both sides. I firmly believe there could be much sharing across the two disciplines.
Immediately, there will be readers who will challenge the premise of this article with “yeah, but we do Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP)”.

Sales and operations planning is a well-documented and mature process. Done properly, there's an increase in communication, greater attention to service levels, decreased costs and better capacity planning. All absolutely good. But, based on what I've been told, and what I read the process can be a shotgun wedding for those involved - something they must do.

It's also been suggested that a joint meeting of of Sales and Procurement could be illegal. Really? In some cases, there could be restrictions as some companies are both buyer and seller to another company. If this applies, a conversation with your Legal Department can confirm if it's okay, or a problem. If you're a reader who can say “yes, we do share across the Sales and Procurement groups” then congratulations on being progressive. Keep up the good work!

Colleagues have suggested that I shouldn't be overt in my support of this practice. That it's a betrayal of the Procurement profession. Again, really? More disclosure - I've been privileged to conduct sessions that are called Sourcing Training for Non-Procurement Professionals. This started when I was still a practitioner and was called upon to assist with the development and delivery of the training for our various sales groups. Strategic Sourcing was emerging as an accepted practice.

Our Sales professionals were aware that we were an early adopter of sourcing and negotiation management and they genuinely wanted to know more. They approached us. They understood that being knowledgeable of sourcing and the associated rules of engagement were critical to collaborating with customers in this new environment.

Since then I've delivered several - training Sales about Procurement - sessions. These sessions follow a predictable path. The first request is “tell us more about purchasing tactics” hoping to be made aware of some “silver bullet” for beating Purchasing at its own game. The next step is to decry Purchasing professionals as evil. There's still a great deal of distrust.

The third, final and most important step is the participants acquiesce to wanting to know about practices like sourcing, category management, structured negotiations and what it takes to work with Procurement to succeed. It's hard to determine if Sales professionals fully buy into the need to collaborate but at least Sales people are interested in learning more.

What about Procurement professionals attending Sales training? Know any? Hopefully, there are more than I'm aware of. Anecdotally, many Procurement professionals are obstinate when asked if they would benefit from Sales training. “Nope, don't see the need. My job is to buy stuff.” Some Procurement professionals have the view that anything to do with Sales and/or selling is toxic.

This attitude may be contributing to the challenge routinely called out by senior Procurement executives about their need to better collaborate internally. Attending some form of Sales training for Procurement professionals could help in two ways - first, having a better understanding of what it takes to sell - second, understanding how to sell internally.

Sales has and will continue to view itself as the most important role in almost every business. As Sales sees it, it's all about the top line. But, the flip side of selling is buying. Procurement should want to establish itself as the second most important role in the business. Procurement leaders and professionals should want to elevate their stature to approach parity with Sales as a contributor to revenue rather than being seen as just another business function.

Procurement needs to convince business leadership of its contributions to the bottom line. Instead of arguing for the proverbial “seat at the table” maybe Procurement should do what it can to earn the respect of its internal competitor - Sales. Having Sales as a partner and supporter could make a big difference.
I'm a firm believer that both Sales and Procurement are engaged in Supply Management. As such, both are revenue generators. It's time for Procurement to abandon its harden silo and request to be more engaged with its Sales counterparts. This will give both sides the occasion to discuss and better understand the selling and buying processes. This is all about awareness, knowledge transfer and the subsequent respect that comes through collaborating with colleagues in your own company.

“Do your Procurement professionals spend any time with your Sales professionals sharing best practices?”

While the question is simple it needs to be taken very seriously. Sales people should be trained on Procurement and Procurement people should be trained on Sales. At the very least there should be knowledge sharing - internally. It's time to move away from being polar opposites within the same company. It's time to accept the reality that for both groups it's all about collaboration, awareness, and mutual enrichment. Revenue improvement just might come as a byproduct. Otherwise, you're missing a great opportunity.


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