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The perception of procurement varies between organizations and, often, even among the various departments within the organization. In addition to aligning itself to the overall business strategy, procurement must also present itself as a valued and trusted source for all their internal stakeholders. This includes end user departments that consistently need procurement’s help. However, it can be a difficult balancing act when procurement’s focus is to cut costs, but the IT department needs specific software that’s double the price of other software on the market.

In this instance, procurement must find a way to balance their objectives and goals against their end users’ needs, while also maintaining trust and credibility in the eyes of the end user. It’s tricky, but it can be managed by taking a different line of questioning when the sourcing process is underway.

Here are some examples of how you can rephrase your line of questioning to elicit more meaningful responses, allowing you to cement yourself as a trusted resource within the organization:

1. Instead of asking, “Why do you want that (product/service/vendor)?” - Say this, “Tell me more about your decision-making process.”

Asking “why” can come across as confrontational and can evoke a defensive response. Meanwhile, asking your internal stakeholder to tell you about their process will give you more insight into their thinking and what their needs truly are. In turn, the interaction will be more positive and help procurement to be seen as a trusted department within the organization.

2. Instead of saying, “We need to minimize cost.” - Say this, “How can we maximize the outcome?”

While minimizing cost is always a key objective for procurement, it creates an illusion that you’re the frugal department that only thinks about reducing the dollar value and nothing else. Asking about maximizing the outcome reframes the discussion and allows you to get a better understanding of what is important beyond the dollar value and why that’s important to the internal stakeholder.

3. Instead of asking, “What workarounds have you created?” - Say this, “Tell me more about your current process.”

Shooting straight to the “workarounds” doesn’t offer any insight into the overall operational process. Asking the stakeholder to detail their current process provides procurement with greater knowledge into the department’s operations and overall needs.

4. Instead of asking, “Why do you prefer multiple suppliers as part of buying?” - Say this, “What challenges do you foresee if we move to a single supplier?”

Asking the internal stakeholder what challenges they foresee is a great way to make them feel more involved in the process, as you’re asking them for their input instead of mandating a change of course. From procurement’s perspective, it provides you with more knowledge as to why there are multiple suppliers to begin with and what obstacles (or lack thereof) the stakeholder could potentially face if the supplier base was reduced to one.

5. Instead of asking, “Where/how can procurement help?” - Say this, “What are your key challenges and accomplishments?”

While asking “where can procurement help” is not confrontational, it isn’t overly helpful either. The question is limiting because it relies on the stakeholder’s perception of what they think procurement can do and is capable of. Instead, asking about the stakeholder’s key challenges and accomplishments will give procurement deeper insight into some of the issues the department has faced and how they have overcome them. It will provide you with greater context around which you can better insert procurement as a trusted and credible resource for the stakeholder to lean on because you’ll have a better understanding of what they’re facing.

These are just five examples, but they serve the greater purpose of getting you thinking about how to rephrase your line of questioning. While alignment with the overall business strategy and meeting objectives and goals are imperative, it is also important to improve the perception of procurement within the organization. To do so, take a collaborative approach and it will help you develop more meaningful relationships with your internal stakeholders.

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