How to make stakeholders hate you: Number 4 – Insist every spend category is the same

We’re pleased to bring you a short series on that perennial topic – managing stakeholders, users, budget holders, and colleagues – whatever we want to call them. But we thought we’d approach it from a slightly different angle. So let’s look at how to make sure we can instil real hatred of the procurement function and the people within it amongst that population!

4. Insist every spend category is the same

“I’m new to buying professional services, but personally I can’t see that it is very different from buying stationery / facilities management / frozen vegetables for Aldi / used cars”.

“We’ll just use our standard category management methodology here. It worked fine for packaging so I can’t see why it shouldn’t be OK for buying global audit services”.
Stakeholders make lots of fuss about their area being different, but that’s rubbish – it’s all the same really. A few basic buying techniques are all you need really, they can be applied everywhere and should work pretty well...

There’s nothing guaranteed to get knowledgeable stakeholders more annoyed than that sort of thinking and comments of that nature. But let’s be fair - anyone who has worked extensively around procurement for some time knows that actually, there is more than a grain of truth in this. A robust category management process will be effective across categories as long as it is applied sensibly - of course the specifics will vary by spend area. And many of the required procurement capabilities for instance are reasonably common across categories– the ability to analyse markets, to negotiate well, to carry out cost analysis.. these skills can be applied pretty much anywhere.

However, categories are different. Packaging is not the same as audit, buying stationery is not like buying IT outsourcing services. The markets are different, the issues are different, the right approach will be different. Every category has its own complexities. In some cases, I would argue that to be a top-class buyer requires you to acquire some quite detailed technical knowledge; in others, that is less important.

And actually, I did find in my practitioner career that everything can be fascinating if you look hard enough. I remember getting involved with a contract for carpet tiles. Dull, really dull, I thought. Then I went to a factory in Yorkshire that made them – and it was one of the most fascinating manufacturing processes I had ever seen. Lots to understand, a very complex cost structure, a rapidly globalising market (at that time). So category manager, carpet tiles is a much better job than it sounds!

But even if we might think there is more commonality than the stakeholders do, it’s always worth emphasising to them that you do understand that ‘their’ category is different (and interesting, and challenging, and important..) It doesn’t cost anything to put that view across, and helps to establish the relationship that is so important to delivering good results.

First Voice

  1. Trevor Black:

    This is one of the few articles I have read in years that explains the fundamentals and those who believe that procurement is just the same process for everything should read it. One of the first things I learnt at the start of my career was that you cannot make strategic business decisions or get to know your supply chain sat behind a desk. Good procurement is good procurement no matter how many daft job titles you can think up to go with it.

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