How do we look to suppliers?

Dinner with a group of current and ex CPOs last week – purely social – but an interesting discussion about the profession.  In particular, a couple of the people support their sales teams in bids as well as running their in–house procurement function.  Their general feeling was that too many procurement people are still very process-bound, and that even some very large organisations are still pretty bad at procurement.   I then coincidentally got an email from an old friend, Paul Neill, who was a public sector CPO and now does his portfolio career thing, including running the Bidding Consultancy.

Paul’s view, from his supply side of the table, is that things have improved a little; central government generally knows what it is doing although PQQs and other documents are still often far too long and complex.  But other parts of the public sector are ‘highly variable’ (I think he was being polite there) – ranging from very good to rubbish.

I do find that procurement people often do not put themselves in the shoes of the supply side.  (And this isn’t just a public sector fault - I don’t think some of the largest private firms would compare well if they came under similar scrutiny).  Do we look at things from the supplier point of view – how might they perceive your organisation and the material you are publishing?  Is that PQQ or ITT easy to understand, does it ask sensible questions, are you treating them in a reasonable manner?  As Paul said in his email, buyers  don't do enough to 'road test' the procurement process and documentation before presenting it to the market - hence the 100 pages of clarification Q&As that arose from a recent big framework exercise”.

I accept there are a few supply categories where buyers can still get away with the well-established technique of hitting the supplier across the head until they say ‘yes’ – but let’s be honest, that is the exception these days. So doing what we can to be a 'preferred customer' to suppliers is a sensible strategy in most cases, and that includes running bidding processes effectively and thoughtfully.

And perhaps we could ask suppliers to (anonymously) give us examples of really bad procurement practice – or really good for that matter; and perhaps ask procurement folk for similar cases on the sales side!  The best /worst examples to be featured here; a new awards evening beckons I think....

Peter Smith

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