Procurement Terms to Avoid to Better Communicate Procurement's Value

By Cindy Rittel | December 10, 2019

No one, and I mean no one, outside of procurement wants to hear about your RFIs, your RFPs, RFQs, or any of the RFXes for that matter. With procurement struggling to get its message heard in many organizations, it’s time we address some of the procurement terms or “jargon” that makes our stakeholders’ eyes glaze over.

Every business function has its own language and unique vocabulary that helps its practitioners communicate more efficiently, and procurement is no exception.

Whether we’re talking about SRM, RFPs, or maverick spend, procurement terms may be necessary – but only when procurement professionals are talking to each other about processes within the function.

When communicating with people outside of the profession like a business stakeholder, a supplier, or someone at a barbeque who asked what you do for a living, using industry jargon will most likely confuse them. This has the effect of muddying understanding about what procurement does, the value it can bring, and how it is relevant to the things your wider organization is trying to achieve.

You will get a much better response from others by focusing on positive outcomes and value-additions in language that resonates with your audience.

How to speak to non-procurement professionals

When speaking to non-procurement professionals:

  • Focus on outcomes rather than procurement processes. You may be inclined to tell someone in marketing that you intend to launch a leading-edge RFP process to optimize their supplier base. Instead, tell them procurement can make it easier for them to find the help they need to better connect with their customer base.
  • Adjust your language to suit your audienceIt isn’t necessary to learn the internal jargon of every function you deal with, although knowing a bit of accounting jargon is always helpful. It is, however, necessary to take the time to understand the goals and priorities of your stakeholders. Someone working in corporate social responsibility, for example, will be much more responsive if you talk to them about sustainability and social initiatives rather than cost savings.
  • Adopt the language of the wider business. While your business may have a dozen or more different professional “languages” scattered through the building, there is also likely to be one, unifying language that can act as the lingua franca everyone will understand. If you’re unsure of what this is, review your organization’s enterprise-level targets and goals and begin adjusting your language to reflect these. Remember, in the end, your job is to help achieve organizational success, not procurement metrics.

Three procurement terms to avoid

It may seem counterintuitive to remove certain procurement terms from our vocabulary, but doing so could serve as a way for procurement professionals to better communicate just what it is they do, and why it matters.

Cost Savings

Even though the idea of a team focused entirely on cutting costs would be attractive to any CFO, procurement’s overuse of this term has become problematic.

Today, many CPOs are struggling to articulate the wider value procurement can bring to an organization, whether it’s through social procurement initiatives or increased innovation through stronger supplier relationships.

Speaking exclusively or predominantly about cost savings grossly simplifies and undervalues procurement’s contribution to the organization.

Maverick Spend and Rogues

Instead of using negative labels to shame the people who don’t follow the company’s spend policies, think of them as an opportunity to understand why your policies are not working.

Changing the habits of end-users through top-down processes and policies may work for most of the organization, but there will always be a small percentage who will only change their habits once you’ve engaged directly with them to explain the benefits (for them!) of working with procurement.

Taking on the role of the “procurement police” and treating mavericks like criminals will not help your efforts to bring them on board.


Procurement professionals may revel in the idea of an upcoming negotiation and enjoy the challenge it brings, but for stakeholders and suppliers, the word “negotiation” can carry negative connotations.

For stakeholders, for example, it may sound like a daunting process, while suppliers may feel that a negotiation will inevitably lead to a loss of margin. Instead, use language that highlights the positive outcomes of a negotiation, such as “seeking a mutually beneficial outcome” or “win-win” for both parties.

Professional networking website Procurious asked six CPOs to name the one procurement term they wished they could ban forever. Check it out in the video below. What would you add to the list?

A time and a place for procurement terms

Finally, think about where you are using procurement jargon. It’s obviously acceptable in conversations and documents that are intended for procurement use only. You’ll get a chance to air your favorite jargon when you attend procurement conferences, as well.

But whenever you communicate with non-procurement professionals, such as in conversations at the office, emails to the wider business, reports for the executive team, or feedback to suppliers, take the time to review your language choices.


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