On Dealing With Procurement Executives

Why you should stay away from RFPs.

Selling to large companies is scary to many consultants. The fundamental skills you will need are the same as if you chose to sell to SMBs or mid-size firms - you are still dealing with people, after all. But there are also important differences, such as the role of procurement executives.

Every coin has two sides. And as I previously shared, the main challenge of hunting for whales is a more complex sales process.

When selling for large companies, you will never see a single person with full responsibility to hire you. Often you need to build consensus and have more people - in different departments - commit to working with you to win their business. And this includes procurement people.

There are 2 ways procurement makes the selling process more challenging:

  1. Due to the method in which procurement buys, they necessarily turn every investment into a commodity purchase. This is true even when consultants are uniquely positioned and propose bespoke solutions for the company. Price is the first concern, while cost is rarely considered.
  2. Selling is much more difficult when you are removed from the context of the company’s problems. Most of the time, purchasing simply publishes an RFP. Consultants are not allowed to meet with decision-makers, stakeholders, and the people who would take part in the project - eliminating the ability to generate new ideas that might create additional value for both parties.

But this is slowly changing. As the procurement department’s power has grown, so has their responsibility. Getting the best price and terms is not enough anymore.

Your relationship with procurement people should be consultative and much similar to how you deal with the decision-makers from other departments. And this means making them aware that no one knows everything they need to know.

You will use your stories to share what are the biggest risks and trends in the market, what competitors are doing, and how you've been working with their colleagues from other departments to create a solution that solves their needs and requirements.

Of course, you can't ignore their interests and internal requirements. There are many practical tips and tricks to dealing with procurement, which I'll share in upcoming posts. But it all boils down to having the right conversations to identify their needs, and including them in your proposal.

If there's one universal advice I give to boutique consultants, it is to stop writing and sending RFPs as much as you can. They are created by low-level executives, not those who own the project budget. You can't avoid dealing with purchasing, but that doesn't mean your sales conversations should start there.

Instead, start with the true economic buyers and slowly bring the procurement responsible into the conversations. This will allow you to perform proper discovery, become a trusted source of advice, and get buy-in from others in the organization.

Want to win and deliver high-value consulting? You're better off avoiding the RFP process entirely.

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