Procurement Practitioner or Solution Provider – A Tough Career Decision

A friend of mine has a tricky decision to make. He has been a procurement practitioner for more than ten years – he’s a fair bit younger then me, so perhaps approaching (but not quite at) the mid-point of his career. He’s been successful, but is not yet at CPO or  Head of Procurement level, although in my view he certainly has that potential to get there.

Having decided that the time was right to look around for alternatives, he has been somewhat surprised and flattered to be offered a job by an excellent firm following the very first interview he’s attended for many years. However, the dilemma is this – the job and the firm is on the solution provider side of the table, working for a software (with some services) business that sells largely to the procurement industry.

Now it is a very good firm, one of the best without a doubt. The job would not be a pure “sales” role, but would make use of his professional procurement skills and experience. But, it would be significantly different to the current practitioner role.  So what do you think?

Forgetting all the factors that come into any new job decision, such as the package, location, a good boss, what are the particular factors that procurement practitioners need to consider when moving across to the solution provider side?  Here are a couple I discussed with my friend – we would love to get some input from other readers though who may have gone through a similar career change.

The sales focus – even if you are not in a front-line role, pretty much any solution provider role outside pure software development is going to have a strong sales focus. Pre-sales, business development, client management, subject-matter expert – they will all still have a strong link to the top-line. Nothing wrong with that, but a procurement person will find that big change from being the buyer. Some people take to it very naturally, even enjoying the thrill of making the sale (or being involved in that), but others feel uncomfortable or just feel they don’t know how to make the transition. Training can help with the latter issue; in terms of the “feeling” , that can be a more personal matter.

That may well also impact on the remuneration balance. Roles on the solution provider side are more likely to have reward that has a higher “at risk” element. Putting that positively, we all know that successful sales people in many industries can make more than anyone in procurement outside the FTSE 100 type CPOs, as can consultancy firm partners. So the rewards of moving may have more upside that downside. On the other hand, the performance related element of the package could be very significant.

Advising, not doing – this applies to many consulting roles as well as those on the software side. How do you feel about helping others, advising, persuading … but not actually doing that big procurement deal or coming up with a great collaborative project with your key supplier? I personally found that quite tough when I first moved into consulting, although by doing a mix of consulting and more interim type work I found my feet. But on the software side, you will always be one step removed from the procurement people you’re working with who actually spend money.

Developing your position in the industry - On the other hand, many jobs on the solution provider side actually want you to develop your status as an “authority”. There may be opportunities to speak at conferences, do some writing even, and get on those lists of top supply chain experts that get published - many of those folk, seen as influencers and thought leaders in the industry, come from the provider side. You can do some of that as a practitioner, but it is probably easier from the provider side actually if your firm sees it as part of the job.

So, what other thoughts have you got? Anyone like to add to our list here?

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First Voice

  1. Nick @ Market Dojo:

    Interesting question!

    Having made the move some years ago, I would also add:

    Entrepreneurialism: typically Procurement teams are established within large corporates: it’s quite rare for a £10m firm to have a central Procurement team. Corporates aren’t always the most dynamic of work environments! And so it’s a different culture working for a tech-based company, especially in the procurement industry where there are so many niche players. You get very used to working for yourself, devising your own strategies, workload, activities. Not to mention the whole culture shift that a tech firm will have – not necessarily pool tables in the break-out area type thing, but agility, responsiveness, rapid scaling, globalisation, real-time metrics, etc.

    Resilience: in the corporate world, you get used to things moving slowly. It’s frustrating but a necessary evil that you learn to tolerate. However, moving to a solution provider, it becomes a major barrier to success, as the market you’re pitching to moves 10 times slower than you do!

    I’m sure I’ll think of some more…..!

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