All posts by Cindy Rittel

The One Where Friends Taught Procurement How To Negotiate

The six main characters in Friends may have given us a lot of laughs over the years, but they can also teach procurement professionals a few things about the fine art of negotiation. 


In this article, we look back on seven episodes in which Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Monica showed procurement what to do and (more often than not) what not to do when negotiating with suppliers. 

1. Having a back-up plan (or two)

In The One With The Proposal, Phoebe reveals to Rachel that she has a pact with Joey to get married if they’re both still single at 40. When Rachel tries to secure Ross as her back-up, he reveals that he is also committed to Phoebe, who rightly points out ‘it’s good sense to back up your back-up!’

A single-source supply situation is a dangerous place for procurement professionals to find themselves. Firstly, it doesn’t account for any risk factors such as trade tariffs, political and economic instability or natural disasters that could gravely impact the efficiency of your supply chain. Secondly, no matter what your benchmarking data tells you about costing, having one supplier puts procurement in a vulnerable negotiating position, particularly when the time comes for contract renewals.

2. The importance of being realistic

In The One After Vegas, Rachel and Ross accidentally get married following a particularly big night out in Sin City. And Ross, desperate to avoid his third divorce in two years, embarks on a ludicrous campaign to convince Rachel to stay married to him. During their negotiation, he first points out the proximity of the ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’ checkboxes on forms, (‘How is this going to affect you? … It’s right next to it!’) and then proceeds to offer her all the gifts from the wedding registry.

Before entering into negotiations, procurement professionals must clearly define their strategy, be realistic about their expectations and treat their suppliers fairly. Pushing your suppliers too hard can be counterproductive and destroy the potential value to be gained in long-term strategic relationships.

3. Being flexible

In The One With Ross’s Denial, Monica and Chandler attempt to negotiate what to do with their spare bedroom. Monica dreams of a beautiful guest room whilst Chandler wants to create an old-school arcade. The discussion ultimately reveals Monica’s unwillingness to compromise on anything related to the apartment’s interior. 

Rigid supplier onboarding can be time-consuming and costly, particularly for SMEs. Similarly, inflexible payment terms might eliminate certain suppliers who depend on fast payments. For procurement to successfully engage with a diverse supplier base and drive innovation through their suppliers, processes need to be adaptable and accommodating.

4. Controlling your temper

In The One With Ross’s Wedding, Ross and Emily’s parents squabble over wedding costs, a conversation that eventually descends into a sparring match (‘I could kill you with my thumb’). Ross is forced to intervene and mediate the discussions, threatening both couples with ‘no grandchildren!’ if they cannot reach an understanding.

Focusing solely on costs during a negotiation is a recipe for conflict. In today’s world, procurement depends on long-lasting and meaningful relationships with suppliers to drive creativity, sustainability and efficiency. When tensions are running particularly high, it might be worth bringing in a mediator or involving senior leadership, but this is not a decision to be taken lightly by procurement – the basis of your supplier relationship will determine its future dynamic.

5. Doing your homework

In The One With The Embryos, Chandler and Joey agree to get rid of their pet chick and duck if they win the lightning round of Ross’s quiz. Rachel and Monica end up losing the game (and their apartment) simply because they don’t know Chandler’s job title (‘he’s a transponster!’)

It might be tempting to save yourself preparation time and come to a supplier meeting unprepared with the intention to ‘wing it’. But be warned, it will come back to bite you when you’re unable to answer key questions, stalling for time, and don’t have your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) prepared. 

To guarantee the best outcome, it’s important to do your homework and understand the supplier’s aspirations, weaknesses and objectives. Negotiation expert Erich Rifenburgh recommends that your preparation time should be at least three times longer than the time spent in the negotiation itself. 

6. Being efficient

In The One With The Jellyfish, Ross reveals he never finished reading a letter from Rachel that outlined her reconciliation terms. ‘I was tired, and you had rambled on for eighteen pages . . . front and back!’ The letter’s complexity and ambiguity results in the couple breaking up (yet again). 

If you’ve reached the end of a negotiation and the terms are unclear, or some of the participants are dissatisfied, something’s gone wrong.

Ideally, both parties will walk away with complete clarity on the agreement in terms of costings, deliverables and timelines, which should all be reconfirmed at the end of a negotiation. Procurement professionals must also question whether the final agreement has longevity and be certain that no value has been left on the table.

7. Knowing your limits

 In The One With The Ring, Chandler identifies the perfect engagement ring for Monica and is determined to secure it at all costs. When another shopper snaps the ring up first, Chandler and Phoebe go to huge lengths to negotiate its return, unwilling to compromise on an unsuitable alternative. 

Being flexible doesn’t mean being a pushover, and it certainly doesn’t mean giving in to pressure or abandoning your company’s values or protocols for the sake of a quick negotiation win. To deliver top-quality products and services, procurement professionals must know their limits and stick by them, without compromising on maintaining supplier relationships. It’s a fine line to walk, but the payoff is worth it. You’ll earn respect from your suppliers, maintain integrity and keep your internal stakeholders happy.

Get in touch with UNA to discuss how a Group Purchasing Organisation can leverage the power of bulk purchasing to negotiate on your behalf. 

4 Ways Procurement Can Work With Start-Ups and SMEs

Size isn’t everything when choosing suppliers.

There’s a poignant scene in The Lord of the Rings in which the Elven Queen Galadriel turns to Frodo Baggins, a frightened young hobbit, and gently reminds him that ‘even the smallest person can change the course of the future’. 

Against all odds, and to the dismay of many powerful leaders in Middle-earth, Frodo is entrusted with the monumental task of destroying the One Ring within the fires of Mount Doom. His relentless determination, unorthodox methods and the faith of his closest friends all contribute to his ultimate success. 

What can procurement take away from this? Most importantly, when it comes to selecting suppliers, size isn’t everything – something any one of the 30.2 million small businesses operating in the United States could tell you. 

Traditionally, big works with big. But companies today are recognizing that they are selling themselves short by restricting their supply base to large organisations. 

Benefits of working with SMEs and start-ups include: 

  • Small businesses are more agile and innovative because they are less confined by rigid or bureaucratic processes.
  • Improved sustainability and added social value, which benefits the local economy. This is because SMEs are likely to have a good understanding of the community in which they operate.
  • Better value for money as a result of lower admin costs and increased flexibility.
  • Capacity to deliver highly specialised solutions.
  • Closer buyer-supplier relationships.
  • Increased efficiency in terms of product cycles and the provision of services.
  • Improved supplier diversity: 45% of US-based SMEs are minority-owned businesses.

Despite the many advantages, some procurement leaders remain wary of partnering with smaller businesses due to increased risks. Others simply struggle to effectively build and nurture these partnerships.

Here are my 4 tips for procurement to build successful relationships with SMEs and start-ups. 

1. Build close relationships with your suppliers

One of the many benefits of working with smaller vendors is that it’s easier to build meaningful, lasting relationships – often directly with the CEO. These drive innovation, reduce cost and mitigate risk. 

Procurement professionals should take advantage of this through regular communication and collaboration with suppliers, particularly in the pursuit of innovation.

Negotiations, contracting and pricing are a necessary (and important) part of any buyer-supplier relationship. But meeting your suppliers in person to seek innovations will drive value for your organisation. 

In reality, you might be surprised at how much additional value a supplier can contribute when you abandon standard approaches to SRM and commit to listening and learning.

2. Pay your suppliers on time 

According to a recent study, 11% of all invoices sent by SMEs are not paid on time, which comes at a cost of over $1 trillion each year. On top of this, the research found that 7.5% of all SME invoices are written off as bad debt. 

SMEs are dependent on good cash flow. Many fail as a direct result of clients delaying payments. So paying your suppliers on time should be an absolute priority for procurement professionals.  

Similarly, procurement should be cautious about driving harsh payment and contractual terms with small businesses that may be unequipped to negotiate with large corporations. Remember SMEs are likely to deliver long-term value in other ways. 

3. Be flexible 

In order to prioritise innovation and other benefits associated with SME partnerships, procurement teams must be willing to adapt their processes to be more accommodating. 

Many corporations are accustomed to only dealing with other big companies. This leads to the assumption that only large suppliers are capable of meeting demands and managing risk.

In reality, as long as suppliers are financially secure and can deliver your requirements, your flexibility in accommodating them is the more important factor. 

Procurement teams can do this by:

  • reducing contract complexity 
  • limiting turnover thresholds and removing high insurance and health and safety requirements
  • sharing risk appropriately between buyer and supplier
  • keeping KPIs simple, concise and supportive. 

4. Mitigate potential risks fairly 

There’s no question that there are risks associated with working alongside SMEs and start-ups. But with careful consideration and forward planning, these can be mitigated. And without negative impacting prospective suppliers to a point where they are compelled to walk away.

For example, an SME might present a higher financial risk than a big supplier. These concerns can be alleviated by requiring financial due diligence and detailed discussions surrounding the company’s finances to ensure complete transparency. 

Similarly, it’s worth asking for an overview of the supplier’s recent and ongoing projects, including a first right of refusal to buy the company should it go bankrupt. Commit to regular meetings and use incentives instead of penalties. 

So, the next time you’re approached by an SME or start-up, don’t reject them on the assumption that they will be too small to meet the needs of your organisation.

Just like Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring, an SME just might turn out to be the most valuable partnership you ever create. 

Learn about the cost savings and other benefits involved in joining a Group Purchasing Organisation (GPO) at www.una.com

How to Explain Procurement Using a Christmas Turkey

Still struggling to explain procurement to your friends and relatives? This festive season, why not put it in easily understandable terms – using your Christmas turkey?

Christmas turkey
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

“So, er … Cindy – what is it you actually do?” 

It’s the holiday season, which means that at some point you’re likely to find yourself making small talk at a social event with someone who is showing polite interest in what you do for a living.

The trouble is, the word “procurement” is quite often met with a blank look. I know that I certainly had no idea what the term meant the first time it was mentioned, and even today I’m still discovering that there’s way more to procurement than the word suggests.

So, how should you answer someone who presses you on what procurement actually is?

Don’t be boring

Let’s have a look at some of the common definitions of procurement that come up with a basic Google search.

From Wikipedia (a quote from MIT press):

“Procurement is the process of finding and agreeing to terms, and acquiring goods, services, or works from an external source, often via a tendering or competitive bidding process.”

Sorry, I think I nodded off in the middle of reading that! Apart from being wordy and dull, the real problem with this definition is that it talks about process rather than outcomes. Nobody cares about tenders or competitive bidding processes. They’d rather hear about outcomes such as money saved, the eradication of modern slavery, and environmental benefits.

In its whitepaper on this very topic, CIPSA canvassed its members to come up with this definition:

“Procurement is the business management function that ensures identification, sourcing, access and management of the external resources that an organisation needs or may need to fulfil its strategic objectives.”

Accurate, but soporific. What’s needed is a definition that explains procurement in a way any layperson would understand.

Don’t make it just about buying

Usually, my advice would be to keep your definition as simple as possible. But oversimplifying procurement inevitably ends up with procurement being described as “buying” or “purchasing” only.

I once witnessed a CPO dad telling his six-year-old daughter: “I do the shopping for my organization; I’m the one pushing the giant shopping trolley.” It’s a great image, but procurement does so much more than sourcing products and services.

Without trying to cram everything a procurement professional does into your answer (the other person will roll their eyes and walk away), try to capture some of the activities procurement does beyond sourcing: identifying cost savings, building relationships, managing risk, driving innovation and sustainability.

Procurement and the Christmas turkey

Let’s assume you’re sitting around the table at Christmas lunch when your partner’s elderly and inquisitive great-aunt asks you what procurement is. While you take a few seconds to consider your answer, your gaze rests on the magnificent turkey in front of you.

Why not use the turkey to help illustrate what procurement does? Let’s give it a try:

“Well, Aunt Edna, take this turkey as an example. Someone here had to go to the shops and buy that turkey – that’s simple enough. But imagine if you worked for a company that wanted to buy 100,000 turkeys.

It would be procurement’s job to first of all understand exactly what type of turkeys the company needs. Then we’d look around for suppliers who can not only reliably fulfill an order this large, but do it on time, with every turkey meeting quality expectations. Procurement would negotiate with that turkey supplier to get the best-possible price by seeking a bulk purchase discount.

But it’s not just about reliability, quality and price – it’s also about sustainability and social outcomes. Is there a supplier who breeds turkeys in a more sustainable way than others?

Are the turkeys cruelty-free and free-range?

Are the human workers paid fairly, and do they work in safe conditions?

Can we spend our turkey budget with a minority-owned supplier, or one that focuses on positive social outcomes such as hiring workers with disabilities?

What else can that supplier do for us? Is there some sort of innovation they can come up with (such as cheaper or more sustainable packaging) that would be beneficial for both my company and the supplier?

So you see, Edna … (oh, she’s fallen asleep).”

Further reading

Looking for more inspiration to help you explain procurement to others? Check out these other resources:

UNA is a Group Purchasing Organisation that generates cost savings for members across a wide range of products and services (including Christmas turkeys).

Closing the Procurement Talent Gap, One GPO at a Time

How do you recruit and retain top talent in procurement? You need to go beyond what’s possible for any one person and leverage the power of communities and technology.

talent gap
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

If you ask a classroom of children what they want to be when they grow up, you may get answers like “astronaut,” “football player,” “doctor,” or “ballerina,” but it’s rare you’ll hear “procurement professional.” 

Let’s face it, procurement and indirect sourcing are not exactly sexy areas, at least not from the eyes of an outsider. There are few people who know exactly how much value procurement generates for a business and want to invest further in the organisation.

From strategic sourcing and supplier risk management, to contract negotiations and risk mitigation, procurement plays an essential role in any large business.

Talent Shortages Threaten Procurement’s Function

Despite this incredibly important function that procurement fulfils, consultancy firm KPMG reports that the procurement talent shortage is real and only getting worse. Though it might be enlightening to dive into the question of why such a shortage exists, the reality is that it does and this is impacting businesses today.

Ultimately, we need to figure out how to work around it. 

If hiring more procurement professionals is not an option, one obvious procurement strategy for growth is to scale your existing procurement team’s reach as much as possible given the limited resources. There are several ways to do this, from outsourcing work to procurement consulting firms to implementing supplier consolidation strategies.

As an example, Group Purchasing Organisations, also known as GPOs, are gaining popularity as a way to increase the impact of procurement without adding headcount. 

GPOs Are Low-Cost, Low-Effort Alternatives to Adding Headcount

A GPO is an organisation built to leverage the purchasing power of several businesses to take advantage of high-volume discounts from suppliers. The idea being that utilising the collective buying power of its members creates benefits for both vendors who can grow their business and buying organisations that want to get better deals.

In consumer terms, this strategic buying is like purchasing at Costco or a similar bulk discount store. 

GPOs are a great way to centralise procurement functions and scale the impact that procurement can create without the headache of reorganising departments within a company. They allow companies to prevent spend leakage, get better terms and discounting, and outsource the risk and time associated with contract negotiation, not to mention the time saved when employees no longer have to run RFPs for all good and services.

Members of GPOs report significant savings of up to 25, 30, or even 40 per cent of their previously best-negotiated pricing agreements. 

Becoming a GPO Member May Even Help with Recruiting

An added bonus and secondary reason to add a GPO membership to your procurement solutions strategy is that it can help you attract new procurement talent. When potential candidates learn the business is a member, it tells them that cost savings, strategic buying, and risk management are high priorities for your business. A

t a bare minimum, this helps inspire confidence in the business because company leaders are prioritising ways to protect the company and better manage its spend.

It also tells a potential employee that when they come to work in your procurement organisation, they won’t be stuck in the dark ages hunting down RFPs or the latest version of a contract.

Ultimately, an investment in a GPO gives your business a competitive advantage over similar companies looking to hire that may not have considered procurement innovation a priority. And if procurement experts are in such short supply, this could be a serious leg-up. 

The Future of Talent in Procurement Is Uncharted

Even if you don’t opt to go with a group purchasing organisation, there are several ways to make your procurement organisation more attractive to potential new recruits. Investing in new procurement technology, professional training initiatives, innovative recruitment marketing, and more are all ways you can up the business’ desirability as a career driver for future candidates. 

That said, GPOs are a highly manageable and attractive way to both drive savings and efficiency in the short term while signalling to candidates in the longer term that procurement is a priority.

If you’re looking for an efficient and practical way to get the most out of every dollar while scaling your procurement organisation, a GPO is definitely worth a second look. 

Could Group Purchasing Organisations be Procurement’s Endgame?

Procurement’s fight for strategic recognition could be seen as a fight for its very survival. Could it be time to assemble around a collective idea before the endgame starts?

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

Have you heard the one about procurement being outsourced as a function? Where organisations finally tired of not getting the value they need and hand over the reins to an external third-party to run the show? If that sounded like the lead in to a joke, it wasn’t intended as one.

Procurement needs to face up to the reality that if it can’t add value as it promises, then organisations may choose another route for the function. But where there is adversity, there are heroes to stand up. And with Group Purchasing Organisations (GPOs), these heroes are closer than you think!

Outsourcing Procurement

At the turn of the decade there was an increasing number of organisations picking this as their procurement strategy. More recently, and famously, in 2015, PepsiCo took the decision to outsource its marketing procurement function to much fanfare and no small amount of worry for the global profession.

It’s hard to argue against the benefits of this approach too, with cost reduction, increased leverage for discounts and economies of scale just 3 from a wide list. But don’t polish your CVs to find new career just yet. What if there was a way to get the benefits above, but retain control on your procurement and even free up time to allow for more strategic input.

The Avengers and Procurement?

Let’s look at this through a lens the majority of people will be familiar with. The meteoric success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is based around the ability to tell a variety of different, diverse stories, but then tie up all of these strands into one, larger story.

The collective vision is why the first film in the series, Iron Man (2008) took $585 million at the box office, while the latest, Avengers: Endgame (2019) has taken in $2.796 billion. And counting.

From a procurement point of view, this collective vision comes in the form of Group Purchasing Organisations (GPO). There are numerous similarities between the Avengers and GPOs (bear with me!), but here are the top 3:

1. Leadership

The Avengers is a collection of larger-than-life superheroes, all with their own agendas, quirks and egos. What allows them to be an effective force in the fight against evil is that they have great leadership. Step forward Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.

What makes “Cap” a born leader is that he sets aside his own feelings and agenda for the greater good. He makes sure that every member of the team has a voice, even down to the smallest or newest ones.

And that is one of the key aspects of a GPO. It enables every procurement organisation to have access to the network, facilitating benefits that wouldn’t have been possible on their own.  These benefits, such as cost optimisation and savings via economies of scale go on to a different sort of leadership – cost leadership.

2. The Power of the Collective

Individually the Avengers were all quite stellar.  As Tony Stark himself puts it in The Avengers (2012), “a demi-god; a super-soldier, a living legend who actually lives up to the legend, a man with breathtaking anger-management issues, a couple of master assassins”, not forgetting Iron Man himself.

Individually, they were heroes, but none of them strong enough to defeat a larger enemy. Only by working together, and in Endgame having a second shot at it, did they possess sufficient power to be victorious.

A GPO ties together the varied procurement strategies of its member organisations, increasing the buying power of the collective.  The centralised procurement would provide great benefits without giving up any of the control.

3. Data & Analysis

Where would the Avengers be without the technology of Stark Industries, the nation of Wakanda or the power of Hulk? Just as important is the data provided by SHIELD and analysis that they rely on for running missions, frequently broken down for them by Vision.

A GPO has access to all the data that a procurement organisation would require for strategic buying, in the form of procurement solutions. Analytics organisations, like Sourcing Insights, provide all the back up required for successful sourcing, while ensuring that everything is managed against real-time, accurate data.

Procurement – Assemble!

It might not be the most obvious of matches, but there’s no doubt that for many organisations this could be a huge win. Far from ceding control of their procurement, they can pass over the transactional and highly resource-intensive aspects to someone else, meaning their procurement team can be strategic, like SHIELD.

So maybe it’s time for us all to embrace our inner superhero and take a step towards a collective vision of the future. Who knows, we might all together be able to save our great profession before the Endgame arrives!

If you would like to learn more about the super benefits of Group Purchasing Organisations and how they could assist with your savings agenda, please visit UNA.com today!

What Literature and Film Teaches us about Savings

The theme of money is a very common one in the world of books and film. So what can our favourite fictional characters teach us about increasing our savings?

From Pixabay on Pexels

It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that procurement can learn a lot about saving from literary and film characters. Money is a common central theme in so many novels and movies and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a multitude of good and bad examples of how organisations can manage their money. 

One of the many options available to organisations is to look for external assistance in the form of procurement consulting. To tie in with the idea of drawing inspiration from a network of sources, one particular strategy would be to use a Group Purchasing Organisation (GPO). A GPO draws uses the collective purchasing power of its members to achieve greater discounts and lower prices from suppliers. 

The benefits don’t stop there. A GPO can apply various procurement strategies and actually increase organisational savings year-on-year. It’s about selecting the right strategy or strategies. And this is where our movie and book characters come in.

Strategic Buying and Mr. Micawber

Wilkins Micawber is a primary character in the Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield. The character has begat the ‘Micawber Principle’, which simply and eloquently states that if annual expenditure exceeds annual income, then the result is ‘misery’. Though he seems to be better at offering this advice than taking it himself, this shows a good example of strategic buying.

In spite of some criticism faced, GPOs don’t encourage greater spending or higher volume of purchasing – this is a myth! They do, however, utilise the greater buying power of the collective over the individual to provide lower prices for members. And then, in addition, keep these prices lower in the long-term by leveraging higher volumes and pre-negotiated contracts. 

Definitely no misery here if the strategic buying is carried out effectively, as this will result in continued savings for the organisation.

Monty Brewster and Centralised Procurement 

If you haven’t seen the 1985 comedy classic, ‘Brewster’s Millions’, then finish reading this first and then go and find it on whichever TV/film/streaming service you use! In the book and film, the titular Brewster must spend $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit $300 million. And there are a couple of catches: 

  1. if he fails to spend the full amount he is left with nothing; and 
  2. he cannot tell anyone the reason for his spending spree.

Let’s set aside for a moment that this is every procurement professional’s nightmare end user – off doing their own thing without communicating anything. 

One of Brewster’s main issues in spending the money is his well-meaning friend, Spike. While Brewster is off throwing money away, Spike is making shrewd investments and actually earning more. It’s the very definition of decentralised procurement.

A GPO helps to build centralised procurement in the organisation and in its network of members. Communication is key and demand management strategies are developed by procurement in conjunction with end users, reducing excess usage. This is all supported by GPOs providing metrics and benchmarks from the network for all members to use. 

This again helps keeps the price down in the longer term and reduces the likelihood of an end user going on a Brewster-style spending spree!

Procurement Software and Nick Leeson

They say the best stories start with the kernel of truth. Well this one is based on a true story which helps to highlight the benefits of procurement software in both traceability and compliance. Ewan MacGregor plays real-life ‘Rogue Trader’, Nick Leeson, whose attempts to save and recoup money caused one of the biggest scandals in banking history.

Without trivialising the situation, or making light of what was a very damaging time for a large number of people, the film and real-life story highlight why organisations, and procurement within them, need high quality procurement software to track and manage spend. The concept of ‘you can’t save what you can’t see’, as well as ensuring that spend is compliant rather than non-contract or maverick, links heavily to the savings agenda.

Companies like Sourcing Insights provide world-class software and analytics which enable procurement to track and visualise data in real-time and see where future issues may lie. You may not have a Rogue Trader in your midst, but with the application of the right software you’ll have greater control on your spend which will help to deliver savings year after year. 

Managing your Money

There’s an idea in procurement that to get the best from spending, professionals need to spend the money like it’s their own. But how about you engage some procurement consulting and get them to manage your money like it was their own?

Whether you are a Micawber or a Brewster, you can access the best knowledge and software, knowing that your money is safe in their hands. After all, it would be nice to be able to point to this success the next time your CFO asks “show me the money”!

From savings and pre-negotiated agreements, to spend analytics and collective buying power, GPOs provide a wealth of benefits to procurement organisations. Find out more by visiting UNA.com now.

How Procurement Professionals Can Look Like Rockstars

Will procurement ever achieve ‘rockstar’ status within an organisation? It’s an idea that hasn’t gained much traction in the past. But help may be at hand from a new source.

Muhammad suryanto/ Shutterstock

Despite the profession’s best efforts, the terms ‘procurement’ and ‘rockstar’ are uneasy bedfellows in a sentence. When you picture a rockstar – Keith Richards, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett, Pete Townshend – they are a free spirit; perhaps anarchic, but certainly someone who lives life by their own rules. Does this sound like procurement to you? No, me neither.

Even now, after all the efforts to make procurement a strategic partner, moving from transactional purchasing to strategic buying or strategic sourcing, the image of procurement remains the same. A profession that’s very traditional, process driven, compliant (not that this is a bad thing) and just maybe a little … boring.

Although some progress has been made, rockstar status is still a ways away. While there are huge, global names that have come from the profession, the name recognition is still an issue. You know Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates and Tim Cook, but do you know who their CPOs are?

Have you heard of Bo Andersson, formerly GM’s ‘Mr Purchasing’? How about Jennifer Moceri, CPO of global drinks giant, Diageo? Without wider recognition of what these rockstars have achieved, very few people outside the profession will be able to understand much about what procurement can deliver.

Collective rather than Individual?

The profession has spent so long trying to create ‘rockstar’ CPOs and leaders with global profiles that it may have lost sight of the true aim – to elevate procurement as a whole. When it comes to being a ‘rockstar’, the one thing that nearly all the greats have in common is a group by their side or backing them up. And it’s in this power of the collective that procurement’s ultimate success may lie.

For the collective profession it’s about understanding what the business needs, aligning a procurement strategy with the overall business strategy, and then delivering on this. Procurement will be treated as a strategic partner when it has earned the organization’s trust as a value-adding operation.

It might be an unpopular move, but the first thing that’s going to be on the agenda is savings. The drive in procurement has been to promote an agenda that covers more than just savings – efficiency, compliance, risk management and supplier development are just a few.

However, without even realizing it, the majority of these elements underpin savings and cost reduction. The trick is to not get too focused on savings to the detriment of the wider strategic agenda. Supplier consolidation and centralized procurement are a couple of approaches which tick both the savings box and that of the wider strategic aim of adding value.

Procurement Solutions – Your Backing Vocals

Rather stretching the metaphor of the rockstar and the band, it’s important to understand the tools available to help create your own procurement version of the Traveling Wilburys. Rockstar status won’t happen in isolation and that’s where procurement solutions and procurement consulting can take to the stage.

The best procurement solutions can help turn your data into a major strength through the power of spend analytics. Software can help organizations understand who they are spending their money with, how much they are spending and, most importantly, if they are getting what they have paid for. It makes spend visible, facilitating a greater understanding of how cost optimization and spend management will work within the wider procurement strategy.

As with any band, it’s important to pick a software solution that acts in harmony with existing systems, processes and how it will work once it’s been implemented. Given that employees are the ones who will be using it on a day-to-day basis, it’s critical that the solution is user-friendly, and that employees are trained fully.

Even the great rock bands (Queen, Black Sabbath, the Beatles) sometimes need to bring in external experts to push them on to greater things. For procurement it’s no different and the choice may be to engage procurement consulting organizations to assist.

These consultants can assist with software choices, implementation and running. But Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) go one step further, offering contract monitoring, spend management and collective buying power through their membership network.

This can help drive savings targets, aid supplier consolidation and all the other positives that organizations want from their procurement teams. Put simply, they help transform procurement from an undiscovered and unappreciated talent to a global rockstar!

Visit UNA to learn more about the benefits of Group Purchasing Organizations.

Captain Planet, Power Rangers, Voltron … and Procurement

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s time for procurement to consider a procurement strategy angle it has never thought of before.

By Sean P. Aune/ Shutterstock

“Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart. Go Planet!” “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!”

If you were a child of the 80s or early 90s, there’s a fair chance that you are familiar with these words. They are, of course, the words used to summon Captain Planet, via the power of five magic rings wielded by his “Planeteers”. The cartoon acted as an advocate for environmentalism and even spawned a charity.

What, I hear you cry, does a distinctly average 1990s cartoon have to do with procurement strategy? It’s not about how procurement can help to promote environmental sustainability. Need another clue?

Cast your mind back to settling down in front of your TV on a Saturday morning in the 1980s or 1990s. Did you ever watch Voltron? How about Power Rangers? If you did, and remember how our mighty heroes defeated their nemeses, you might be beginning to get the idea.

For the Power Rangers, it was creating the “Megazord”; in Voltron it was the combination of 5 robot lions (or 15 smaller vehicles depending on which series you preferred…). As we alluded to in our introduction, when people or organizations operate alone, they can be ignored or out-maneuvered. When they team up with others, then they wield much greater power that can be leveraged to create great benefits.

From Purchasing to Strategic Sourcing

Procurement may not face overwhelming opposition in the form of giant dinosaurs or evil polluters, but it faces its fair share of challenges. Elements such as maverick purchasing and non-compliance with processes serve to undermine procurement’s position as a strategic sourcing partner to the organization.

There is also the issue for small organizations that their procurement teams are seen by suppliers as non-strategic. Through this they may lose the opportunity to negotiate better terms in a contract, or end up being so far down the supplier’s priority list that they will never be viewed as an important customer.

A wealth of literature exists on why procurement should be creating better relationships with suppliers. Why shouldn’t procurement be looking to create closer relationships with other procurement departments and work together to improve their own strategic buying potential?

Think of your procurement team as one small part of the Voltron robot. If you join together with other small parts to create a procurement mega-bot, there’s little that will be able to stop you from achieving your goals. It’s no coincidence that we often refer to Group Purchasing as procurement’s “secret weapon”.

Here are the some of the benefits that can be reaped by combing your (purchasing) powers with other procurement organizations:

  • Scale or Spend Leverage: Probably the most obvious benefit based on using greater, combined volumes to drive a better price. Also known as “buying power”.
  • Price Alignment: Where one organization is paying more for a specific product than another organization, but then align their prices to the lower one. By working together and aligning prices, Police Forces in the UK have saved over £237 million ($339.5 million) in 3 years.
  • Collective Negotiation: Similar to the idea of Collective Bargaining between organizations and employees, but in this case, procurement with other procurement teams. It extends the idea of leverage, giving even the smallest organization presence at the negotiating table.

The Power of Many

Centralized procurement is usually focused within a single organization, but who is to say that you couldn’t have centralized procurement activities as part of an overarching procurement strategy? The options are there that could make this a reality and turn your procurement team into the organizational equivalent of a power ring.

If you’re not sure where to start, then you don’t need to look much further than the potential for outsourcing procurement via one of the many procurement consulting houses. Or, if you are after procurement solutions that enable your organizations to keep more control, you may choose to investigate the option of a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO).

A GPO can offer organizations the benefits outlined above and can back up all of this with hard facts too. Savings on direct and indirect sourcing, access to pre-negotiated contracts and linking up with other organizations to really leverage scale and volume to create tangible savings.

As Captain Planet said at the end of each episode to the viewer at home, “The power is yours!” Now it’s up to you to decide how to use it and if you’ll join forces to overcome the myriad challenges facing procurement today.

Want to know more about GPOs? Contact UNA to discuss the benefits of Group Purchasing.  

Out Of Savings Ideas? Here’s How To Unlock A New Level Of Buying Power

If you feel like you’ve exhausted every avenue for finding cost savings, a Group Purchasing Organization could be the answer to your challenge.

By Andrew Paul Deer /Shutterstock

There’s a gripping scene in the last chapters of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days where the ever-dapper hero, Phileas Fogg, finds himself on a steamboat from New York to Ireland. Going full steam against hurricane winds, the vessel runs out of coal after a few days but Fogg, desperate to get to London in time to win a wager, buys the steamer from the captain and launches a desperate plan.

He instructs the crew to feed the furnace with all the wooden parts of the ship – the cabins, bunks, masts, rafts, spars were all burned, followed by the decking itself in a “perfect rage for demolition”. By the time they reach Queenstown the steamship has been reduced to an iron hull and an engine.

Procurement and supply management professionals on the never-ending hunt for cost savings can face a similar situation. Through the identification of efficiencies, negotiations with suppliers and more drastic cost-cutting initiatives, the wooden decking of the steamship (your organization) can be rapidly stripped away until suddenly you’re left with nothing but the hull.

In an immature procurement function, it’s very easy for procurement professionals to look good by posting impressive savings figures month after month. But as your function matures and savings opportunities become harder to find, your track record suddenly doesn’t look so hot.

Where to from here? Well, that’s where innovative thinking comes in. Finding further savings after all of the obvious avenues have been exhausted takes creativity and out-of-the-box solutions. If you do plan on going back to your supplier base to negotiate lower prices, you’ll need to offer them something in return for a better deal.

Volume, volume, volume

If you’re in a situation where you need further costs savings, but your suppliers genuinely cannot budge on price, there’s one sure-fire lever to reach for – volume.

Most businesses end up paying more than they need to because they only spend a modest amount in a particular category and will never unlock the power of bulk discounts. But not every organization has the resources – or warehouse space – to ramp up their purchase volume on their own. But what if there was a way to get the discounts of “bulk” without having to buy more?

Joining a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) gives members access to savings you would never be able to negotiate on your own. Your organization joins a group of others buying the same thing, meaning you can leverage your collective purchase and buy in bulk as a group to create buying power.

GPOs help businesses of all sizes save on indirect and direct spend. The savings are found not just through bulk discounts, but through efficiencies (such as cutting down on search time and issuing RFPs) and administrative cost savings.

Collective buying decreases suppliers’ overheads, which drives further savings for the purchasing organization. Imagine, for example, a cashier who takes five minutes to process an order. 1000 single-item orders would require 5000 minutes of labor, whereas a single order of 1000 items requires five minutes of labor.

Looking for some facts and figures?

We get it – you’re a procurement pro, and procurement pros want to see hard numbers rather than fluffy promises of savings. We can’t speak for every GPO out there, but we can prove the value of GPO membership with our own figures.

UNA is a GPO with a combined $100 billion in buying power. We help procurement professionals:

  • Boost their bottom line with deep discounts we negotiate to save an average of 22% on direct and indirect spend.
  • Gain access to steeply discounted agreements (better contracts) that would typically be out of reach.
  • Unlock exclusive savings on products and services including 80% off office supplies, 26% off hotels, 20% off parcel shipping, and more.
  • Save time through pre-negotiated contracts to get started with new suppliers in 30 days or less.
  • Keep prices stable with agreements to ensure rates don’t increase.
  • We provide a free cost analysis across your highest categories of spend and offer procurement tips and support.

OK, but how much does GPO membership cost?

Every GPO is structured differently. Some GPOs charge members a fee for their services, while other GPOs, like UNA, are paid by the suppliers themselves. We, in turn, use that fee to fund our program, so that it’s always free for our members.

Membership with a GPO creates an advantage for the member that they couldn’t get on their own. If you’re running out of cost savings ideas and want to unlock the buying power driven by bulk pricing, a GPO could be the solution needed to keep your steamship sailing along.

Interested in learning more? Contact UNA to discuss the benefits of Group Purchasing.