By Dr. Tom DePaoli
Most purchasing professionals have skills in purchasing, negotiations, and the materials or services that they buy. Many have certifications. They have dutifully enhanced their skills in all these areas and pursue continuing education. Unfortunately what many organizations value are operations skills, or what they know about the core business and the customers.
Some purchasing professionals have come up from the ranks or gained operational experience in other internal jobs in the company and they are fine, but most often this is not the case. The challenge for the purchasing professional is how to gain this respected credibility when they are often swamped with other priorities and crises.
One of the best sources may be a supplier or distributer who is willing to take the time and discuss your competition. You will be surprised about how much knowledge they have. They are especially valuable discussing the Voice of the Customer (VOC) and your customers’ concerns. Often they supply your customers.
Since many purchasing professionals have a material or service specialty, my advice is to get out on the shop floor or area where your folks actually use the material that you source. For example, when I was in charge of purchasing wires for a papermaking machine, I went out to the paper machines and actually observed the crew tear off a new wire and put on the new one. Yes, it was wet and hot but I soon got a sound understanding of their issues and concerns. Another way is to actually go on service calls with your service technicians and observe and listen. This is usually unfiltered and sometimes you receive unflattering feedback from the customer.
One of the best ways is to conduct internal training with the purchasing department. Have engineering or customer service give you training on your products and how they work. Have them gear the training to the purchasing department. When I was in purchasing, we asked them to design a training manual targeted to us and they gladly did this by just modifying the existing one. The best instructors know how to make the complicated simple and present the customers’ point of view. One of the best courses I attended was Papermaking for the Non-papermaker which avoided all the confusing technical argot. Another way is to have department meetings where fellow purchasing professionals share what new knowledge they have gained about your products and services. This is an especially good approach because it is relatively non-threatening.
Nothing flatters operational or shop floor personnel more than going right where they work, and asking them to train you about their job and duties. Showing a genuine interest goes a long way in establishing your credibility and getting their cooperation in the future on purchasing projects such as sourcing.
Finally getting “street cred” is not an instantaneous process. Respect does not occur overnight. You will have to take the time and effort to build up your reputation as a purchasing professional who can be trusted more, because they truly understand the core business.