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We Need To Talk About Procurement

Businesses are missing out on boutique agency and startup talent simply because of some old-world practices. It’s time to improve the system.

Most digital transformation programmes involve looking at how you behave with your customers, communicate internally, work across the business, open up your culture to new thinking, and, ultimately, make smaller (and occasionally bigger) decisions more quickly. If executed correctly, a good initiative will touch every aspect of the business.

Yet, from my experience, there seems to be one department that is left out in the cold, untouched, and isolated—procurement. If you meet somebody from procurement, the chances are you stare at your feet, and you nervously try to avoid eye contact. Along with HR, which also has a tough job, it’s the procurement people who you “have” to be nice to if you want to expand your team internally and externally.

Their sole goal is to ensure that decisions about third parties are made consistently and safely for the good of the business, but it often seems to marketers that their primary aim is to get between you and that award-winning campaign.

Even in medium-size businesses, being sent cap in hand to procurement can feel like being sent to the head teacher at school. So imagine what it’s like for your partners on the outside.

The challenge right now is that traditional procurement processes are extremely onerous when it comes to working with startups, or relatively new businesses, or even the old legacy agencies.

As a result of old-world practices, clients are missing out on much of the agency and startup talent available. The current processes do not allow brands to take advantage of the ex-agency crew who’ve started their own business or of the digital natives looking to avoid the system entirely. For them, life is simply too short to try and jump through hoops when you can see they are at least 10 feet above you.

The divide in the agency world between the big and the small has increased over the last few years, and boutiques have come very much back into favour. These are single-use, highly specialised, and extremely talented businesses which may not be great at everything and don’t pretend to be. But they do know what they are good at and do it well.

They are exactly the kind of people that you want to be working with in your newly digitally transformed world. If your desire is to be more agile both internally and externally, then the processes need to evolve to suit the times.

What Procurement Needs To Know

  • One size does not fit all. How can the brand expect to build up a roster of the best future agencies if the only ones you can work with were the names of the past?
  • Yes, everything is important. Yes, everything is business critical. Adapt the process to fit the risk.
  • If you haven't implemented this already, make the first questionnaire-filling stage an online process so that vendors know whether they have a chance or not.
  • If you want lean and mean, then you’ll need to adjust the weights and pro-actively discriminate to encourage boutiques.
  • Consider breaking tasks down into smaller chunks to pitch for, and quarterly reviews to keep them hungry.
  • Separate out compliance from the pitch and make it clear upfront who is eligible.
  • Be polite. However long it took you to write the brief is how long you should give people to respond to it.
  • Think of agencies as you would of freelancers. They’ll hate that, but what it means is that you can grow a much bigger eco-system to dip in and out of. 

I appreciate that many organisations have moved forward substantially in this area, but if you haven’t yet, then it’s worth thinking about how to improve the system. It will save time and money in the long run and will enable a whole raft of new thinking into the business. In the same way that “employer branding” has become important to attract the best staff, the same applies to vendors, and if your process looks ugly, so do you. 

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