What’s it like being a purchaser? As regular readers will know, I started my career in procurement before moving into the world of proposal management – and I still spent a fair proportion of my time with buyers and evaluators. I thought a few insights into life on the other side might be of interest:
1) The enemy lies within. Somewhat bizarrely, the easiest discussions for a buyer are with their potential suppliers. It’s far tougher trying to align resources, budgets and views internally. Running the procurement process is often a precarious high-wire act.
2) Powerless purchasers. The evaluation team will formulate recommendations as to which supplier to choose – but they’ll rarely sign off the decision. Making the presentation internally to the “great and the good” can be a daunting prospect. And, as a buyer, I’ll probably choose whichever bidder I think I can sell internally most easily.
3) “I’m the buyer. Stupid.” Most procurement people are acutely conscious that they know far less about the subject matter of the bid than their potential suppliers. (If this is what their organisation did, they wouldn’t need to ask you to do it for them!)
4) “Your fate is in my hands.” I have the power of life or death over your bid. Win, and you’ll get the glory and our money. So you bidders had better be grateful, respectful, deferential and nice to me. (After all, my colleagues internally aren’t!).
5) I’ll have to live with the consequences of the decision as to which bidder we choose – and those we reject. Thinking short-term, I’ll select whichever company will make me hit my performance objectives, whatever they may be. And in the medium term, I’ll want the bidder who’ll minimise the risk of things going wrong and maximise the probability of me looking like a hero. (And, incidentally, debriefing unsuccessful suppliers can be a terrifying prospect – especially losing incumbents).
6) Making it up as I go along. Only a small minority of purchasers have ever been trained in writing RFPs and leading evaluation workshops. I’ll copy and paste, I’ll use the last document I wrote; it was probably good enough then, and it’ll probably get me through now.
Cynical and jaded? Moi? No wonder I prefer working in proposals!