In the procurement phase, the product you’re bringing to the table is an essential piece of the puzzle – but so are the people who are at that table with you. Procurement specialists, department leaders and future users of your product all have a stake in the procurement process. Once you’ve optimized a ready-to-procure product, how do you find the right power within procurement to position it to, and what can you emphasize to set your product and your team apart?

We’re continuing our deep-dive into the Q4 procurement push to give you key insights from our advisors on navigating the procurement phase gracefully and successfully. In this article, we’ll be focusing on the human side of procurement: the people behind procurement decisions and how to approach them. 

Be Proactive 

In our first post of this series about positioning your product to procurement, Amy Haney, former Sr. Director of Category Procurement at Abbott and president of 3-10 Partners, emphasized the importance of articulating your product to procurement in clear, specific terms in order to avoid mis-categorization.

Upon understanding which vertical best fits your solution, continue to work with  procurement specialists, seek to understand priorities and what you as the supplier can proactively do to move through the procurement process. Position yourself as a partner which will show the organization that you’re invested in building a positive and long-standing relationship with the organization, including its procurement department:

“Working proactively with the procurement team can be a useful way for companies to learn valuable information about the client, including policies, procedures, processes, over-arching company objectives and other pertinent information to aid in determining partnership feasibility.  Through early involvement with procurement, proactive steps can also be taken together which may alleviate delays in the future when business may be awarded.”  

We heard similar advice from the former Head of Data Analytics and Corporate Technology at a major healthcare company:

“Having a good relationship with the procurement team and the users of the solution is key for success. Assigning a customer success manager could become a key enabler for vendor success as well. Vendors who partner in an outcome-based model and are interested in co-innovation are typically successful.”

Forming relationships with procurement specialists can pay off even outside of the current procurement cycle. Advice from one Emissary advisor and the former technology leader at a major insurance carrier:

“Get to know the appropriate procurement specialists for your potential clients early in the sales cycle (even prior to actually working with the business unit departments).  Remember, their job is to facilitate your engagement into their companies. Many procurement teams are using supplier relationship management software to improve their workflow, so even if you are not actively selling into the company at this time, they may include you in proposals that you are not aware of.”

Focus on their Priorities

Amy advises companies to work with clients to understand their goals, objectives and priorities, which then could be acknowledged and  emphasized during discussions and sales pitches.

“There will be areas where cost may be a greater priority, while other areas may prioritize response times, up-time or SLA’s. In the marketing space, of greater importance is creativity, nimbleness, personality fit, ability to reach a target audience, etc. A good procurement professional will focus on all of the important metrics and will work with stakeholders to prioritize those metrics.”

Asking these questions and adapting your approach in response shows stakeholders that you’re not just at the table to make a sale but to provide a solution that will improve their workflow long-term. Amy said that one of the most important things a supplier can do during the procurement phase is to show that they are just as invested in the stakeholders’ needs as the stakeholders are. Procurement is “not a one-way street.”

It’s also not focused solely on metrics, data and figures. The people who will be using your product and the qualitative benefits you can bring to the organization along with your product are important factors as well. 

Amy says that along with ensuring that your solution is a fit for the organization in practical and technical terms, you should also consider how you (as a supplier) will align with the organization’s company culture.

“Company cultures are important, particularly as suppliers seek to build relationships with their clients. Longer-term partnerships were a focus at Abbott during my time with the company. Cultures and shared values enable productive conversations to flow more seamlessly.”

The technical specs and projections of your solution certainly matter, but Amy said that during her time at Abbott, she and other procurement specialists looked for other qualities as well:

“Professionalism, integrity, truth, transparency. Note: These things come out naturally with a supplier, and culture, values, etc. become evident, whether they are stated or not.”

Set Yourself Apart

As a vendor, an organization, and a team, you bring more to the table than just the solution you’re offering. Advice from a former technology leader at a major insurance carrier: make sure to lay out those additional benefits you can offer, and don’t shy away from highlighting what sets you apart aside from your product.

“Some suppliers can bring far more to the table than simply the products they are selling.  Ensuring that your customers (and the various stakeholders in the clients company) understand other capabilities you provide can often be a key differentiator. Examples might include, additional support services, ongoing training or webinars, and product enhancement/upgrades.  Also, having clients speak at events about their experience with your product or services can be beneficial for both sides.”

Another key factor to emphasize is the more personal aspects that set your organization apart:

“Along with the basic information about your company and its products, ensure you include any factors that might differentiate your business from competitors, such as minority, female or veteran owned.  Don’t be shy about contacting the procurement group of a company and simply asking how you can get into their list of approved suppliers.”

Bottom line

Procurement specialists are people, too. Try to avoid tunnel vision that focuses only on your product itself or on the quantitative benefits you can offer. On top of those elements, approach procurement with a view toward building relationships. Demonstrate a willingness to listen to the organization’s priorities, have an ear open to company culture, and present the non-quantifiable benefits you can bring to the organization as a long-term partner.