re-branding procurement to enable, engage & inspire

by Diego De La Garza from ProcuRising Magazine

Whether or not you’ve ever watched a basketball game, you know the name Michael Jordan. In all likelihood, you could even identify him at a glance. That’s not because he’s one of the greatest players in sport’s history. It’s because, for all of his skills on the court, Jordan was even savvier in another arena: branding.

Think of how Jordan compares to a player like Tim Duncan. On paper, they’ve got a lot in common. Both excelled as college players, got drafted in the first round, won NBA championships and collected a wealth of awards. Next year, Duncan will even join Jordan in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The two couldn’t be more different, however, when it comes to their personal brands. Jordan’s entrepreneurial activities and brief career in entertainment are as famous as anything he ever did on the court. Duncan was far less flashy. During his NBA tenure, many even dismissed his style of play and soft-spoken demeanor as “boring.”

For all of Duncan’s success, he’s unlikely to inspire a Drake song or find himself immortalized as a meme. To a new generation of basketball fans, who are unfamiliar with his exploits throughout the aughts, he’s likely just a name in the history books.

The name “Michael Jordan” conjures images of acrobatic dunks, buzzer beating shots, and a win-at-all-costs attitude. Though he was no less successful, Duncan’s name suggests—at best—dependability.

Where am I going with all of this? I’d argue that procurement is a lot like Tim Duncan. While its reputation for excellence ought to precede it, that’s rarely the case.

Whereas other units like legal, marketing, and sales command attention and enjoy executive buy-in, procurement isn’t typically as lucky. Though it’s the one and only business unit with 360-degree access to the supply base, it’s often dismissed as a purely tactical, low-value function. In many businesses, it’s even tagged as adversarial.

’m a firm believer that perception is reality. Simply put, business units that perceive procurement as a tactical function are unlikely to abandon this idea. They’ll neglect to engage with the unit and, with time, its value will diminish. In order for procurement to succeed, and promote success, its peers need to recognize that it’s capable of doing so.

How you might ask? By following these simple guidelines:

define procurement's value proposition 

Misconceptions and negativity can be contagious. It’s only a matter of time before procurement begins to agree with its peers and think of itself as being strictly the budget police. That’s why the first step in repairing procurement’s reputation involves aligning itself internally and defining its purpose. Other business units might have clearer value propositions (marketing promotes brand awareness, sales drives revenue, legal mitigates risk, etc.), but none are as broad or potentially transformative as procurement’s.

When procurement is well-staffed, well-equipped, and well-respected, it has the power to enable the entire business. It’s up to the Chief Procurement Officer to ensure the entire function recognizes this, specifically, to educate them on the immense power that they hold.

This power comes with an equally immense responsibility. Procurement owes it to itself and its peers to demonstrate its performance with clear, consistent KPIs. Selecting metrics that capture and communicate the value that procurement brings to the table is the first step to making this case across the business.

Communicate the Value Proposition

For generations, both internal and external stakeholders have dreaded working with procurement. The function’s dogged commitment to cost savings often sends shivers down marketing’s, IT’s, and the C-suite’s spines. When these folks hear “cost reduction,” they don’t see the positive.

Rather, they’re haunted by mental pictures of sub-par products and disappointing services. In many cases, they’d rather run the risk of making off-contract purchases than engage with their peers in procurement.

Procurement can’t let its less-than-stellar reputation persist. Rather than hiding from the criticism of other business units, it’s got to take an active role in engaging them, thereby seeking to learn how they might collaborate more effectively.

While consulting with each group of stakeholders, procurement should work to build an understanding of how it is perceived. More importantly, it should discern how it can best improve this perception and boost collaboration.

In many cases, this will mean tossing out the notion of “savings” in favor of other, more directly impactful objectives. With an understanding of each stakeholder group’s motivations and metrics, procurement will then have what it takes to promote close-knit relationships in the long term.

Stay flexible, without sacrificing consistency   

Professionals in every industry and business unit love to stress the value of flexibility. It’s especially crucial in an area like procurement, which straddles the line between other business units and boasts access to the entire supply network. Staying agile and adaptable will only grow more crucial as new technologies boost procurement’s capabilities and new risk factors threaten its progress. It’s important, however, not to emphasize flexibility at the expense of dependability.

Even as its responsibilities evolve, procurement cannot lose sight of its central mission, which is, of course, to empower every business unit by reducing costs, promoting visibility, and pursuing innovation. Business units need to know that they can count on procurement to do all three. They should expect, and experience, a consistent strategy and a stable brand identity.

Brands live and die by consistency. When a consumer selects one product over another, it’s because of an experience they’ve come to expect and trust. Changes to something as simple as logos or packaging are often enough to crush brand loyalty and make a major bottom line impact for corporations. Even Michael Jordan came up short when he tried to branch out into the fragrance market.

That’s not to say procurement should resist change. It should, however, take care to emphasize collaboration and communication when making any changes to its strategy. It’s often hard work earning buy-in from stakeholders, and procurement shouldn’t risk letting this work go to waste by going too far with its re-brand or spreading itself too thin.

Game on

Professionals in every industry and business unit love to stress the value of flexibility. It’s especially crucial in an area like procurement, which straddles the line between other business units and boasts access to the entire supply network. Staying agile and adaptable will only grow more crucial as new technologies boost procurement’s capabilities and new risk factors threaten its progress. It’s important, however, not to emphasize flexibility at the expense of dependability.

Even as its responsibilities evolve, procurement cannot lose sight of its central mission, which is, of course, to empower every business unit by reducing

costs, promoting visibility, and pursuing innovation. Business units need to know that they can count on procurement to do all three. They should expect, and experience, a consistent strategy and a stable brand identity.

Brands live and die by consistency. When a consumer selects one product over another, it’s because of an experience they’ve come to expect and trust. Changes to something as simple as logos or packaging are often enough to crush brand loyalty and make a major bottom line impact for corporations. Even Michael Jordan came up short when he tried to branch out into the fragrance market.

That’s not to say procurement should resist change. It should, however, take care to emphasize collaboration and communication when making any changes to its strategy. It’s often hard work earning buy-in from stakeholders, and procurement shouldn’t risk letting this work go to waste by going too far with its re-brand or spreading itself too thin.

Brands live and die by consistency. When a consumer selects one product over another, it’s because of an experience they’ve come to expect and trust. Changes to something as simple as logos or packaging are often enough to crush brand loyalty.

Survey after survey identifies talent as procurement’s most pressing concern. It’s clear that businesses will require nothing short of a game-changing solution to both recruit and retain world-class professionals. Following the example set by the NBA’s most game-changing player could prove as good a tip-off point as any.

Diego De La Garza is a Director at Source One, a Corcentric company, a Supply and Demand Chain Executive, recognized Pro to Know and winner of the Council for Supply Management’s Emerging Leader Award.

@2019 Robinson LaRueCo Consulting LLC