The professional buyer is alert to developing ideas, solutions, identifying opportunities to deliver enhanced benefits to their business and maintain vigilance on supply market risks.

The amateur buyer is locked in their little world, drunk with misplaced power and driven to shut out anything with which they are unfamiliar or which threatens the status quo.

How do they do it?

They use well tested techniques, destined to convince the supply market to bypass the buyer, thereby undermining, in the longer term, the buyer’s position.

As we engage with the bidder-side (suppliers, contractors, outsourcers, IT specialists, professional services) of all flavours and hues, we have sought to collate the kind of responses procurement people have provided to their overtures.

Here are some statements from the past few months:

1. “Send me an e-mail.”
2. “Put something in writing.”
3. “We only meet existing suppliers.”
4. “We aren’t interested in new things.”
5. “Talk to me again in six months’ time.”
6. “I am very busy right now.”
7. “Who else have you talked to?”
8. “We tried something like that a few years ago and it didn’t work then.”
9. “Why are you bothering me?”
10. “You are wasting your time?”
11. “I am saying no. Do not contact anyone else in our business.”
12. “I make the decisions and I don’t want to know.”
13. “I don’t want it, even if it’s for free.”
14. “We will make a note.”

All this is in sharp contrast to a central London, Head of Procurement, who advised us that she reserved ½ a day a week to personally meet potential suppliers who claimed they had a new product or business solution. She said that the investment of time paid huge dividends and kept her finger on the pulse.

This foresight and professional attitude is refreshing.

Can you hear the negatives already?

“I haven’t got the time.” “She is very lucky and can’t be busy.”

An open mind is a distinct asset in procurement – it is a significant personal and business quality in achieving your objectives and key results.

Asking the following three questions- would be helpful when engaging (by ‘phone, networking events, initial meetings) with potential suppliers, vendors contractors and partners (let’s call them “bidders”).

No doubt you’re aspiring to work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment to establish and develop trading relationships.

And your focus is on your objectives and key results.

Your “OKRs” (as the kids say it) ensures discipline thinking (the major goals will surface), you communicate accurately (lets everyone know what is important), establishes indicators for measuring progress (shows how far along you are) and focuses effort (keeps your firm in step with each other).

So how does this fit with engaging with bidders – and NOT being an amateur buyer?

You want to gather information – fast – and you want to analyse whether to take the discussions to another level.

So how do you ask the right questions to filter out those bidders who really ‘get’ what you want and will be ‘right’ for you and your OKRs?

Remember this isn’t the time for a PQQ type of interrogation; you want them to open up to you – let’s get the basic (and understandably necessary) information later. You want to find out what doing business with them will really be like. So leave the Quality, Finance, Sustainability, etc pop-quiz for later.

Here’s three questions that get the bidders you engage and meet with talking about themselves – and give you a better chance of taking discussions to the next level.

Question 1: Why did you think I was the right kind of buyer to approach?

I’m not saying you jump right in and say this, don’t be off -putting but let’s’ remember there’s a lot of buyers out there. You want to be approached – but not sold to, surely? Apparently some (many?) bidders will approach everyone they can! But they may give little thought as to why they are doing it. That can only be good news for amateur buyers 🙂

Do you want to be just another standard buyer? Or part of a market sector that an bidder is focusing on. Your time is valuable!

You want to be opening a dialogue with bidder that has market knowledge of your sector or shared objectives. Or where you fit a buyer profile that the bidder is actively looking for. There’s a better chance of establishing a better and more professional relationship that way. One where the bidder will want to continue to develop a partnership with you.

Let’s have a look at question 2:

Question 2: What do you think makes you different?

Please tell me, you’re going to walk away (or at least gently exit the telephone conversation) if they respond by saying “price, service and quality”?

Okay, maybe not; these facets are important, but how do you get that 1 to 10% of bidders that have thought about the innovative, unique (?) and genuinely useful propositions for your business? Here’s their chance to tell you what is different about them that aligns with your own issues and aspirations – and OKRs.

Now, a positive answer to this question really can deliver on all that good marketing and vibe we’ve been hearing about from applying yourself to engaging with bidders.

Last but not least, the third question. You are kind of narrowing your eyes at this stage. You’re (quietly) impressed with the responses to questions 1 and 2, and here is to the topper that, fingers crossed, means you’ve found a bidder that is in that top 1-10% that can materially be of help to you and your organisation achieve your OKRs:

Question 3: What added value can you bring to my organisation?

The ideal bidder will love the opportunity to answer this question. A bidder that’s let’s say sub-optimal or a run of the mill salesman-type will no doubt focus on cheap prices. Maybe that’s what you want, I don’t know, I’m just thinking there is more on offer to achieve your OKRs. Your ideal bidders’ added value emanates from their knowledge and skills in their total offering. Their value isn’t just their track record; although a relevant case study/example would be welcome. Their added value includes the qualities of perseverance, vision, commitment and flexibility (backed up by real-life evidence). Their knowledge, skills and behaviours matched with an openness to share their expertise with you, will, we believe, be a valuable asset of the ideal bidder.

Hey, you’re no amateur! Right?

Three good questions to start you off, though a checklist of other pertinent question are needed as follow ups.

Stephen Ashcroft BEng MSc MCIPS is a procurement risk consultant at Brian Farrington.

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