5 essential skills to succeed in procurement
Like any other industry or job responsibility, procurement is an area of business that requires the employees who act within it to possess an array of skills and abilities if they are going to be successful contributors to the task of acquiring the necessary equipment, items, and software for businesses to carry out their activities on an ongoing basis. In fact, if you read any job posting in which the position of procurement director is being advertised, you will be forced to absorb paragraph after paragraph describing the attributes that leaders in the procurement industry are expected to have, along with the skills they are expected to have acquired by that stage of their careers.
Perhaps you are a procurement leader who has systematically adopted new skills along the way for the sake of career advancement, or perhaps you are in an entry-level role and are searching for the means to take the next step in your occupational progression. Either way, this list of the five essential skills necessary to succeed in procurement will undoubtedly help you to broaden your own horizons, and to help you identify, develop and mentor the sort of people that can further your existing procurement team.
Data analysis experience
The ability to generate accurate, well-researched RFPs may seem like a basic skill for any member of a procurement team to possess, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every RFP is the product of several hours of research, data sifting, and trend forecasting, where procurement team members have investigated the needs of the individual departments within the company, taken the reported needs and desires of those departments into account, and then weighed those desires against corporate budgetary constraints to see if there are acceptable alternatives that are less expensive.
In short, successful procurement staff members must be able to analyze the data they collect from several sources and make logical, defensible, data-driven judgments to acquire whatever is necessary to fuel the productivity of their companies. Further, they need to configure ways to do so without breaking the bank. That’s a lot of responsibility, and it all starts with the possession of an analytical skillset.
As numbers-driven as procurement can be, there is always an interpersonal relationship lurking behind every transaction between procurement teams and the vendors they opt to purchase from. Rarely are the numbers as cut and dried as they are initially presented during introductory emails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings. Often, discussions with vendors about the limitations that exist within the companies those procurement teams represent will result in price discounts in exchange for longer contracts, or considerations for loyalty, or promises for future price breaks if certain quantity thresholds are met during the terms of the contracts.
The human element is constantly present during these proceedings, but it can only be maximally actualized if procurement teams engage with their vendors and build relationships that allow the vendors to appraise themselves as if they were members of the procurement team itself, tasked with solving a problem for the sake of keeping their partner’s company in business.
Procurement team members that operate as islands unto themselves are likely to be unpopular within their organizations. Even worse, they’re just as likely to doom the companies they work for. This is owed to the inescapable reality that actionable procurement data is not merely collected on a spreadsheet, but needs to consider front-line factors and experiences.
For example, if two financial service software packages ostensibly perform the same tasks, the procurement team, operating in isolation, might make a seemingly-logical decision to purchase the less expensive of the two software packages. From Procurement’s standpoint, the problem may be solved, but they have just unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon their financial team.
Not only does the cheaper system turn out to be less effective, but it is also more difficult to learn, and prone to break down. Moreover, the finance team considered all of these factors when submitting its software recommendation to procurement in the first place. As a result, thanks to the absence of communication, a decision made solely to reduce up-front expenses has proven to be costly in terms of lost time and productivity. Even worse, the finance team no longer trusts the procurement team to make decisions that are in the best interests of the company.
Clearly, open communication could have prevented all of these issues from manifesting themselves, so successful procurement teams must be communications savvy and use that communication to prevent the equally costly losses of time and goodwill.
Computer software skills
As time passes and technology continues to improve, an increasing number of procurement functions are being handed over to software that is designed solely with procurement in mind. In fact, software in procurement has become specialized to the degree that even the areas of procurement spending that were once thought to be trivial can be analyzed and optimized with the goal of squeezing every last penny’s worth of savings out of the process.
Of course, whenever computer software is involved, there is some level of familiarity with the software that must be attained in order to get the most out of it. Therefore, successful procurement leaders must be willing to put in the necessary time to learn all of the features of whichever procurement software their organization acquires for them to use in order for them to be of the most benefit to their company.
Unsurprisingly, the processes of procurement have changed both constantly and substantially over the last 20 years. Even as the internet has become a ubiquitous tool that virtually no industry - including procurement - can function without, some of the early web-based tools that were designed to aid procurement teams, like spot-buy catalogs, are in the process of becoming obsolete in light of the ongoing progress made within the industry.
As a result of this continuous change, procurement veterans and specialists have seen themselves as the lone constants within an ever-shifting landscape, and they must be trained and retrained in order to maintain their value to the organizations they serve. Procurement leaders with the fortitude to tolerate sustained change will remain invaluable, because they will have experience with the old methods, training with the new resources, and firsthand knowledge to support their decisions. This is because they will be the only people within their companies who understand what used to work, why it no longer works, and what is likely to work in the future.