Hey! Procurement – make your customers “feel the love”! - Procurement News

Generation Procurement | by Tania Seary on 11/02/2015 05:24 | 0 comments

Important lessons from Gustave H and the Grand Budapest Hotel

A quick office survey revealed that no matter how much the boss likes it, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is not exactly everyone’s idea of a great movie.

However, the adventures of Gustave H; a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars – provides a lot of great (quirky, yes) insights into what constitutes exceptional customer service.

In the procurement world we often refer to those we serve to please as ‘stakeholders’… but let’s face it, they are our customers and all the old-fashioned principles such as “the customer is always right” apply.

Of course we want to do more than serve – we want to become a trusted advisor. But time and time again, ‘stakeholder engagement’ and the ‘soft skills’ re-appear as the number one skill that CPOs need their team to develop, in order to achieve that ‘trusted advisor’ status.

So in the spirit of ‘sharing the love’ this Valentine’s Day, here are some of my customer service learnings from working with clients, customers, stakeholders and alike during the last two and a half decades.

5 ways for procurement to make sure communities “feel the love”

Know your RFQs from your Ps and Qs

Nothing sells like credibility.  If you are going to put yourself forward as an advisor, you need to know about both about the professional service you are offering (procurement) and your customer’s business.  Knowing neither or only one or the other, is not going to build enough confidence for your customer to engage with you.  You need to ensure you have adequate procurement skills, as well as understand the business you are in to make the grade.

Make sure you get through to the second round

The analogy here to a boxing match is not accidental.  I have had some very tough first meetings with my customers. Let’s face it, not everyone always wants procurement’s ‘help’. A large part of our profession’s heritage has been about convincing our stakeholders about the value we can deliver.

From my chilly desk in Pittsburgh over a decade ago, I can still clearly remember being yelled at down the phone from my business unit customers in Iowa and Texas.  One CPO screamed, “If you want my team to spend their precious time on some corporate scorekeeping folly, then get your a** down here on a plane and explain it.”

Gustave H provided a light bulb moment for me about these aggressive experiences:

“Rudeness is merely an expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.”

I can’t say that any of my customers have ever “opened up like a flower”, but they have definitely mellowed from their initial opposition.  Once you prove you can deliver, they’re putty in your hands.  But you have to be resilient and work through this initial push back – get them to the point where they really start to engage and invest in you as a professional who can help them on their journey.

Know what they want; know what they don’t want

When my best practice procurement company, The Faculty, is helping procurement teams to become more customer-focused, we talk about the five false assumptions about customers:

  1. Customers know exactly what they need
  2. Customers will tell you what they need without being asked
  3. If you ask, customers will tell you everything they need
  4. If customers tell you everything they need, you will understand completely
  5. Just because you know what your customer needs, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to convince others in your team

Procurious blogger, Jordan Early, shared with me some really interesting research from Deloitte’s Ajit Kambil, who researched how new finance chiefs often undertake listening tours to understand what their key stakeholders want.

He observed that what stakeholders say they want “may not express their entire universe of so-called wants”. For example in our world, a business-unit leader may say he needs better information and support from procurement. But his true want may be “to be really listened to” by the procurement organization; or he may want procurement to “help support the personal initiatives he believes will advance his career.”

Kambil also suggested that knowing what key stakeholders do not want is as important as knowing what they want. When I was working in procurement within a large organisation, I used to present three potential contract award scenarios before we kicked off a sourcing project. This quickly revealed how the customer would react to different award decisions and helped bring on the conversation about what they didn’t want early on in the process.  It saved a few (but not all) tears at the end of the project.

Knowing what customers truly do or do not want begins by asking questions. However, it is often difficult for stakeholders to clearly articulate what they do and do not want. This is where you really need to call on all your business experience (and hopefully your supportive boss and/or mentor) to help you truly understand your customers’ needs.

Oh, and then you need to deliver. That’s the easy part… right?

5 ways for procurement to make sure communities “feel the love”


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Author

Tania Seary

Founder at Procurious, Founding Chairman at The Faculty & The Source

Tania is the Founding Chairman of three companies specialising in the development of the procurement profession - The Faculty, The Source and Procurious. Procurious has been built as the world's first online social network to help a new generation of procurement professionals to "get involved and get ahead". Procurious is a culmination of Tania's long-held belief that improved networking, training and communication are critical to the progression of the procurement profession globally. The Faculty is recognized as one of Australia’s leading advisors on procurement development. Established twelve years ago, The Faculty works with leading organisations to transform and elevate the role of procurement, build high performance procurement teams and create professional knowledge networks. Under Tania's leadership, The Faculty has instigated a number of "firsts" for the procurement profession in Australia, including the development of a Procurement Executive Program through Melbourne Business School, the establishment of a Procurement Roundtable which includes many of Australia's leading organisations, creation of an annual Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) Forum and attracting leading global procurement thought leaders to teach in Australia. She also initiated the Corporate Board for Social Procurement, which has created a foundation for leading corporations to dedicate appropriate areas of spend toward social enterprises. Four years ago, Tania founded The Source, a specialist recruitment firm for the procurement profession. In 2013 she moved to London and founded Procurious. Tania’s fascination and commitment to procurement development started around fifteen years ago in the United States. After finishing her MBA at Pennsylvania State University, Tania became one of Alcoa’s first global commodity managers. Prior to moving to the USA, Tania’s career was focused on marketing roles within Alcoa and Rowland in Australia, and the Walt Disney Company in the UK. Tania has an MBA and a Bachelor of Business.


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