Chief procurement officers spend the majority of their time selling ideas and plans to the business.
Speaking at a procurement best practice event in London yesterday evening, Xavier Cassignol, CPO at packaging company Coveris, said influencing and internal ‘sales’ were key to the role.
“As a CPO you probably spend 80 per cent of your time selling your change project, or changing suppliers, to top management, and 20 per cent of your time negotiating with your suppliers,” he said. “You leave the negotiation to your team, but you spend most of your time selling your transformation project to the top management.”
Sean Clancy, an experienced interim procurement leader and a CIPS Fellow, agreed. “It is about the ability to remove the roadblocks, that’s what a procurement leader does. They should have a talented team below that does the mechanics. The leader is there to ensure the ideas he is generating are embraced and embedded by the business and he has his colleagues alongside,” he said.
The ability to sell is a skill of increasing importance to purchasing professionals, Cassignol said. “We need to be attractive to our suppliers. Suppliers will make the assessment on whether they want to do business with you. You need to sell your company, especially when you are not necessarily the largest in a specialist market. You need to sell your ability, and the size of the prize for the supplier.”
Clancy added: “The days of sitting back and waiting for the supplier are long gone. Our responsibility as leaders is to go out to those critical suppliers and say ‘You want to do business with us, and these are the reasons why’.”
But Cassignol warned a lack of soft skills could hold professionals back. “We have a lot of professionals with the expertise to deal with category management, negotiation and so on, but we do not necessarily have the right people to deal with the soft skills - the ability to listen and understand the requirements of the business, the ability to sell your projects to the top management, to communicate. Those are skills that are absolutely critical but are being slightly left alone.”
Colin Leisk, team leader at Delville Management which organised the event, added: “We have a client at the moment on a procurement assignment who is only looking for those soft skills. She says she’s looking outside the firm because they don’t have them internally.”