Lessons From The Schoolyard: How Procurement Can Build Better Relationships

Learn how procurement can build better relationships with internal stakeholders through sharing mutual goals, trust, and collaboration.

By Hugo Britt | September 14, 2023


Improving internal stakeholder relationships isn’t rocket-science, yet many procurement professionals still struggle to reach across the aisle to other functions to establish better ways of working together.

In episode 109 of The Sourcing Hero podcast, Kelly Barner spoke with Heather Fotch about stakeholder relationships, the importance of trust, what procurement and sales can learn from each other, and some lessons from the schoolyard.

This article was inspired by that conversation.

Work together or risk devaluing procurement

Over the years, experienced procurement practitioners have probably gained a keen sense of when things are working smoothly – and when they are not. And usually, things are going according to plan when all of the different teams across the organization are in sync.

Imagine a scenario where mutual goals are set annually, internal teams work towards those goals throughout the year, and other business units are there to offer support to ensure those goals are met. Why? Because there’s a commonality between them – if the shared goal is met, it’s a means for all of them to move forward.

It’s when companies become disjointed and their internal departments are unaligned that things tend to fall apart. In many cases, this scenario often leads to companies devaluing procurement altogether.

Improving internal stakeholder relationships isn’t necessarily hard but many procurement professionals still struggle to reach across the aisle to other functions to establish better ways of working together.

The importance of trust in stakeholder relationships

When someone asks you to define “trust,” what comes to mind? Trust in business is based on the same empathetic human principles as it is in our personal lives, and yet building close relationships in a professional capacity remains a challenge for many people in different functional roles. 

Three concepts may come to mind when we think about trust:

  1. Reliability – Being dependable over the long term
  2. Safety – Someone you can come to with your problems, even if it’s just to vent
  3. Confidence – Being confident in knowing someone will be there through thick and thin

If you’re a salesperson, you might try to come across as less tactically aggressive. If you become more of a person that others can open up to, without the added pressure, it’s more likely for trust to develop within that relationship.

The same applies for procurement. Opening up the lines of communication with other departments, taking the time to understand pain points, and working together to find solutions will allow space for trust to build. In time, the other business units will start to bring procurement in at the brainstorming level rather than at the end of a project.

Procurement can learn from sales teams

In procurement and sales, the common goal is to deliver value to customers. Salespeople have external customers while procurement professionals have internal stakeholders, including the C-suite and other business units, to collaborate with to deliver results.

Procurement practitioners are now recognizing the importance of collaborating with their internal teams at the beginning of a project. Doing so improves their value proposition and effectively demonstrates how they can solve problems, much like sales professionals have been doing for years.

Procurement and sales teams share similar challenges in terms of interacting and engaging with others and developing dynamic engagement skills within a company can be highly valuable. Procurement professionals can learn from sales how to effectively engage with internal and external counterparts.

“Procurement struggles with some of the same things that salespeople do. It’s all about how we interact with people, how we can engage with them, and how we can get them to voluntarily engage with us."

- Heather Fotch, Founder & CEO, Quality Imaging Solutions

Lessons from the schoolyard

Unfortunately, other business units may think of procurement as being robots – very by-the-numbers, focused on finances and RFPs. It makes procurement sometimes come across as cold or unemotional, which doesn’t help in our quest to improve stakeholder relationships. 

To build authentic relationships based on trust, it’s important to note that all aspects of business could stand to be humanized, including procurement. Consciously practicing civility is a viable strategic approach procurement could use to build and strengthen internal stakeholder relationships and the relationships we have with external parties.

In the most basic sense, procurement needs to “make new friends” with other business units so that trust can be built. People want to do business with people who they like and trust. 

Overall, if relationships can be built on that solid foundation of trust, with a dash of like-ability and a strong understanding of what others are struggling with, that’s how procurement can start to improve the way they interact with the business and generate real value.

For more on this topic, listen to the full podcast episode here:

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