How do your products define your purchasing behaviour?

Jacques Adriaansen, ‎co-founder of Every Angle, explains the importance of tailoring your purchasing strategy to get the best possible results.

The phrase ‘horses for courses’ is one that’s well worn, but it’s nonetheless particularly applicable for those looking to develop a robust purchasing strategy.

 How do your products define your purchasing behaviour?

Let’s be clear about this – getting your purchasing strategy right is an important part of the operational processes undertaken by any organisation, and yet it seems to be one that many devote an insufficient amount of time to. Too many organisations seem content to fall back on a ”one size fits all” approach, leading to them paying over the odds and having insufficient supplies in place when they are most needed as a result.

So what’s the answer?

The truth is that when people think of purchasing, they often think of hard, tense negotiation and bartering as an integral part of the process. It’s a huge misconception, and one that can lead to significant problems further down the line. The key thing to remember is that it can be just as important to tailor your approach in purchasing as it is in other walks of life. For example, just as it wouldn’t be appropriate to turn up to a gala dinner event dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals, you wouldn’t necessarily think of entering a period of intense negotiation with a supplier over the price of a pack of staples!

Clearly, there’s little risk in not getting staples or nuts and bolts in on time

Broadly speaking, there are four different types of product to consider when identifying a purchasing strategy. Each of these product types requires different behaviours when it comes to the procurement process, based on balancing cost against risk. Firstly, you have products that are easily available and which a great deal of money is spent, due to large volumes and/or high purchase prices. A good example of this might be standard sheet metal, which can be bought at various suppliers. Because this product type has such a relatively high cost associated to it, it puts those in charge of purchasing decisions in a strong position to negotiate. The fact that they are so easy to obtain means that there is very little risk involved in doing so, which means that these products will always be heavily negotiated as part of the purchasing process.

Secondly, there are products, like the staples mentioned earlier or standard nuts and bolts, which are cheap and easy to obtain. Clearly, there’s little risk in not getting staples or nuts and bolts in on time, but the cost is so low that it would be a waste of time to negotiate it. Thirdly, are high impact products, like very specific engines used by machine builders or upper quality lithography lenses for computer chips production. High impact products are only available from a select few suppliers, but which, if you do not have the products available, could significantly harm your ability to perform as a business. In this case, both the cost and associated risks involved are high, which means that the balance of power lies with the supplier. What’s needed, as a result, is a more collaborative, considered approach to purchasing, with limited negotiation and a focus on ensuring that the product is available for you to use when you need it.

Finally, there are very niche products that, although cheap, can only be supplied by one or two experts. A part for an important piece of machinery that helps your factory to operate is a good example of this. These products need to be ‘buffered’. What this means is that it helps to ensure that there is always a supply in stock, as the consequences of, say, your factory having to close because you have to wait for a new part to arrive don’t bear thinking about!

Because this product is so important, and relatively inexpensive, you once again see very little in the way of negotiation. I once had a customer that couldn’t ship a very expensive machine, because purchasing decision makers had blocked one specific part that was needed for it to work. The reason: the supplier of that specific part had increased the sales price of his product by 50 per cent, without contacting them! The new price of the material was a mere US$ 7.50!

These four different product types, and the costs and risks associated with them have to be factored into any purchasing decision. It’s a model that is well known in purchasing circles, and which was first devised by Peter Kraljic, who suggested that a purchasing strategy can only be effective if each of these elements is closely examined. Although Kraljic’s model was originally conceived by Kraljic for purchasing, it can also be successfully applied to managing logistical and production processes (consider determining production series volumes, for instance).

However, although the model acts as a good guideline for decision-making in operational processes, it’s important to remember that there are no hard and fast rules. Before making any decision, you will also need to consider all other necessary information, such as the anticipated sales, prices and other factors that could influence it.

So how do you make the best choices as to the right purchasing approach for you? Perhaps the best way to achieve this is by first asking yourself what you want to achieve, and then considering how you want to achieve it. Clearly, some products will always be in high demand, while others will be in lower demand, but require a different level of negotiation. The important thing is to modify and adapt your purchasing behaviour in line with your desired outcome. By selecting the right horse for the right course, you can guarantee that your purchasing strategy is successful – and improve your business performance as a result!