Procurement and Sales – more in common that you may think

Published: 12 December 2014

Having worked in a sales capacity throughout my career and having recruited for procurement professionals over the past 13 plus years, I can see the obvious overlap of skills. With an increasing shortage of progressive procurement professionals, particularly in the mid-senior management level, is it about time to look at transferable individuals from outside the procurement sphere?
I recall a prominent drinks company that regularly rotated their UK&IRE Sales Director with their Procurement Director. They saw this as a deliberate opportunity for both individuals to gain a different perspective and learn the skills whilst sat at the other side of the table. An interesting concept and not sure if they still follow this same approach, but there is without doubt, something that both parties can learn from one another.

On the sales side, you can gain an understanding of what drives and motivates a modern procurement professional – as we know it’s no longer all purely cost down driven, despite living in an ever competitive market. Quality, supplier innovation, continuity of supply, process improvement, risk management, contract management, supplier development and relationship management are all front of mind for the modern procurement professional.
Conversely, the procurement community can learn more around relationship management. As procurement has developed over the past five to ten years so too has sales:

  • Moving away from mass cold calling to focus more on longer term relationships
  • Developing their skills in tenacity – sales people are rejected in their roles more than any other profession, but they just keep persevering
  • Confidence in their product or offering - have a genuine belief in procurement and why it can add value to the business and go out and passionately tell the tale
  • Stakeholder engagement - truly getting to know your stakeholders, their goals and objectives and align your procurement strategy to this versus just offering your services.

These are all key characteristics of a modern sales professional. You have more in common with one another than just pure negotiating skills. 

Understanding your category area and having a thorough grasp of the procurement process are clearly essential, however these are areas that can be taught – what is harder to embed are the key softer interpersonal skills (more common in the sales community) required to engage and develop any procurement strategy. Without this, no matter how advanced your procurement strategy is, it will simply not get off the ground.

Whilst I’m not advocating a sudden influx of sales people into the procurement profession, I do think it is fair to say that there is a lot to be gained, on both sides, for procurement teams to have at least one individual who has come from a sales background and vice versa, in order to give a useful insight into the other function and to help address the shortage of skills in both these areas.

Richard Guest is a specialist recruiter in the Procurement & Supply Chain Practice at Berwick Partners

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