We’re Busy People! Selling to the CPO – Part 1


I still think of early September as the real “New Year” – something to do with school and university terms I think, 16 years for me, then a few years of rest, then 16 more for daughter. So to celebrate that, we’re revisiting and updating a few of our favourite posts, including some that we wrote for our subscription site some time ago.  Like this one, aimed principally at our readers on the provider side, although it would be great to get some comments from procurement readers on this topic... 

Talking to a friend over the holidays who still has the sort of large organization Procurement Director / CPO role I held some years back, I was remembering both the delights and pressures of that type of role. Which also got me thinking about the people who had to try and sell to me.

That applies to firms selling goods and services for general organisational use – everything from IT to packaging, milk powder to legal services in my time as a practitioner – but also more specifically to those who were trying to sell me goods or services aimed at procurement directly. That included recruitment firms, software or solutions providers, consultants and the like.

So I thought I’d offer some views on how those firms and individuals might have maximised their chances of success, at least in terms of dealing with me.

Please don’t think I’m being condescending here. This isn’t aimed at experienced sales and account management people, who no doubt know a lot more about selling successfully to CPOs than I ever will. But maybe there will be points in here that might strike a few chords with readers, and for those providers, help to structure approaches to potential clients. For procurement practitioners reading this, how else would you advise the sales community?

So, a look inside the typical CPO’s head ... but perhaps we’ll ignore the more disturbing things we might encounter on our journey!

The first message for sales folk is please realise that we are busy. I know that is true for everyone, but just consider this. A large organisation may have perhaps 10,000 suppliers – it may be 100,000. Even if we weed out the inconsequential and occasional, there may be something like 500-1000 firms to whom the CPO is an important person within a significant customer.

And that’s just the current suppliers. You can probably multiply that by 3 or 4 in terms of the organisations who would like to be suppliers. So don’t take it personally when you find it difficult to get into my diary. There are literally thousands of people trying to do the same. Sorry, I’m not being difficult, it’s just how it is. So you need to give me a reason to see you, particularly if you’re not a current supplier.

Unsolicited mail stands very little chance of getting into my hands. If I have a PA, (s)he will deal with it – if I don’t, it may not even get opened or it will probably be filed in the bin immediately. Ditto unsolicited emails. Actually, a well written personal letter (not just a junk mail circular) probably stands more chance than an email these days, as it at least it has the element of novelty. Twitter may well be a decent option (if I use it).

Press releases in the main are a waste of time. I don’t read them, and I’m pretty good at spotting what is purely a PR piece if it does find its way into a trade journal or other media outlets.

But industry credibility does matter and have value. If I hear a positive comment about you from my CPO friends and networking compatriots, or I read a positive independent piece in Spend Matters (or other credible media outlets), that does make a difference. But note again, we don’t have much time for causal reading or research, and we don’t all read the same material - not even Spend Matters! But if you have no presence outside your own website, and the odd bog-standard PR release, then it will be hard to get into my field of visibility.

Part 2 on Monday.

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