Why procurement professionals need to be business ‘influencers’

Procurement professionals need to add more “gloss” to their strategic approach, and become “influencers” within the business. 

The supply challenges caused by the pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis have changed the skills needed to thrive in procurement, Proxima’s 2023 CPO Report found.

The report – which interviewed leading CPOs from Amazon Fresh, Tyson Foods and Woolworths Group – explained that as a result of the macro challenges facing businesses, CPOs in 2023 will need to be “even more critical”. 

“They must navigate their companies through this turbulence effectively whilst delivering the need for active near-term cost discipline. This combined makes it crucial for CPOs to take on a more strategic role in addressing the multiyear, more secular trends shaping the decade-plus ahead.”

This was the advice CPOs gave on how to be a successful procurement professional in 2023:

1. Be problem solvers

Amazon Fresh’s former head of procurement, Rob Turner, argued that procurement professionals must act as business problem solvers, and CPOs in particular need to identify and develop those skills within their teams. 

“The challenge is that we’re seeing demand for high-calibre talent and a lack of supply. Building a procurement team in the coming year means looking beyond years in the industry and identifying people who can foster strong internal relationships, look beyond a category plan, and build strong commercial relationships. From ideation to delivery, it’s about how people can work across the business to identify business problems and effect change.”

He added: “Procurement leaders need to focus on creating a culture that enables people to buy into your vision and what you want to achieve. If this is done effectively, you’ll have a team with the trust and freedom to go and deliver for the business.”

2. Add “gloss” and be influencers 

“Procurement has evolved. When I started in procurement, it was very different to what it is today,” Kaustubh Wadekar, the former group chief procurement officer at Singtel Group, said.

Procurement professionals tend to have a “straightforward temperament”, he said. 

“They’re not salespeople – and they have a tendency to stick to the facts without adding any ‘gloss’ to their achievements. Often in organisations, other functions put more ‘gloss’ on what they've achieved and what they do. They'll add in a very different spin in terms of their achievements and their celebration of successes - they’ll go out for celebrations and dinners after closing a deal.

“Procurement typically doesn't do that, but the reality is that procurement is doing a lot of deals on almost a daily basis, given the amount of buying activity that happens in an organisation. So, I think it’s important for CPOs and procurement teams to think and act as influencers and as salespeople in continuously improving the procurement experience for the business.”

3. Don’t stay in your lane

Tyson Foods SVP procurement, Russ Stewart, said procurement professionals who remain focused on spend will be seen as “transactional” and will be “left behind”.

Instead, CPOs should be “transformational” and “must step up as business partners to deliver competitive advantages”.

Stewart continued: “Procurement is about bringing the best ideas from the outside in, discovering unique approaches, and applying them to enact real change across the business. Bold business leaders who are willing to take risks will ultimately unlock the most significant value for their organisation in 2023.”

4. Don’t view relationships as transactional

Walgreens Boots Alliance chief procurement officer, Melisa Salo said: “Relationships are really going to matter in 2023. When I talk about relationships for procurement I’m thinking about how we work with our stakeholders, our suppliers, and each other to optimise the value that we can deliver. If we treat any of those groups as a ‘transaction’, we will fall short of what could be achieved.”

She added: “Many CPOs will face similar challenges, and ensuring relationships are progressive, productive, and grounded in a common purpose will be essential for success.”

5. Speak the language that the business speaks

Woolworths Group GM procurement, Phil McDonald, said procurement professionals can often speak in a language that makes sense to procurement professionals, but little sense for the rest of the business. 

“Find out how the rest of the business speaks and adopt their language to avoid adding complexity and the impression that procurement is working in a silo,” McDonald said.

“If you can simplify your world from the business’ lens, then you won’t need to translate so much of the great work Procurement does – and it will resonate with them immediately.”

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