Being an ally comes in many different shapes and sizes, requiring involvement at both the micro and macro levels. Whether it means showing support by demonstrating interest in a cause important to a friend, or personally taking action to further their cause, allies strengthen each other through committed relationships and shared effort.
In a procurement context, policies, processes and objectives serve as the ‘macro’ elements through which we develop stakeholder alliances. They represent procurement’s priorities across functions and business units. For procurement to build relationships on a ‘micro’ level, TRUST is the key, and - once established - will prove advantageous to all. These micro and macro inputs go hand in hand; when stakeholders see procurement’s abilities and feel at ease to communicate their needs, they will keep coming back for more spend and supplier support.
How do we establish alliances with our stakeholders while ensuring that alliances form early enough in the project cycle for procurement to have an impact on the outcome?
Here is some advice based on my own efforts to forge alliances:
1. Be Accessible
If you are in the same building, meet face-to-face with stakeholders or co-locate with their department. It may only involve a few hours a day or a week, but being accessible demonstrates that procurement is ‘different’ and wants to be an engaged part of the team.
If you work remotely or are based in a different location from your stakeholders, be sure to respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner, with a personable tone, and in plain language. Use particular care when using acronyms or referring to technology that stakeholders may (or may not) be familiar with.
2. Reach Out
Anna Duin (Brand Specialist at UNA and former Marketing Manager for RFP365), spoke in an Art of Procurement podcast about using a marketing mindset to engage potential stakeholders. Taking the initiative to reach out in advance without an agenda demonstrates an eagerness to help stakeholders grow. The best time to start building strategic relationships is when you aren’t looking for anything in return.
3. Be Proactive
Share information that demonstrates procurement’s understanding of the supply markets relevant to each stakeholder’s area of expertise. Examples include news that impacts major suppliers in the space, emerging technologies or innovations, or your view on how broader trends may impact what and how they buy.
Sharing knowledge demonstrates that procurement is eager to contribute and is holding nothing back. When procurement is prepared to work side-by-side with stakeholders, it opens the door to a greater level of value creation than when we just facilitate a process.
4. Focus on their Objectives (Don’t be Selfish)
Procurement always has cost savings targets to hit, and stakeholders probably know that. When we do pick up projects, focus on the objectives of the stakeholder first. The number one way of turning off a stakeholder is to give them the perception that all they are is a way of helping us meet our savings targets.
5. Deliver convenience
A leading reason why stakeholders don’t get procurement involved early enough is because they dread the process. Protect stakeholders from the procurement process; jumping through hoops is not their job! They think we will restrict what they can do and add significant delays when we aim to do exactly the opposite. Be informative and willing to answer their questions thoroughly. When it is easy for stakeholders to communicate exactly what they want, procurement has less misunderstandings to overcome and gains willing partners in the process.
There is a reasonable chance that your strategic stakeholders are already looking for an internal alliance. Positioning procurement as that ally by taking consistent action over time is the key to early and effective engagement and makes our job easier. Procurement can establish itself as an important partner by taking the first step towards collaboration, making it clear that we are all on the same team.