Could sales people make a successful swap to buying?

1 March 2007
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01 March 2007 | Antony Barton

Almost nine out of 10 buyers say it is possible for sales people to make a successful career change to purchasing, according to the latest SM poll of 100 buyers.

This follows news that some firms are hiring sales people to fill procurement vacancies. Anton Roe, divisional manager at recruitment agency Matchtech, told SM that bosses were increasingly interested in "proactive" and competitive individuals, attributes associated with sales candidates.

Although Roe said a procurement background was still an asset, he added that one client recently told him: "Forget the procurement background - find me someone who fits this mould and I can train them how to buy things."

Most respondents agreed that both roles entailed similar negotiation skills and target drives. Several also said sales people had been taught how to condition audiences in the same way that buyers engage with other buyers, budget holders and CEOs to prove the worth of the procurement function.

Although some respondents had made the transition themselves, most felt the similarities of the roles had been overstated. One buyer said: "The client Roe mentions obviously does not appreciate that purchasing is about more than just cost saving - what about risk, service, compliance, sustainability, innovation, resilience, contingency, flexibility?"

Others suggested that training could be an issue for some sales people. Rebecca Lucas, senior associate for purchasing consultancy ADR International, said: "They can be trained but need commitment to study. If they have been getting by with charm and persuasion it may not be an attractive proposition."

Some buyers questioned whether sales people would have the strategic capability for the role and others said they could under-perform without a cash bonus.

Yet knowledge of how the other side works was seen as a valuable asset. Adam Smith, senior buyer for manufacturer Ceramaspeed, said: "We know what frustrates us about sales people and therefore if put into a sales position we would hopefully take heed of experience of being on the receiving end."

But for Nic Massey, senior buyer for Toyota Motor Europe, the perspective and skills of a sales person were not necessarily of more value than those of anyone else. He said: "We look for the key skills we require as a firm and not just as purchasing specialists. This gives us flexibility."

But most respondents agreed that sales people and buyers could benefit from each other's expertise. Some said companies would benefit if both teams met regularly and there was more emphasis on skills sharing.


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