According to many attendees at the recent ProcureCon Marketing Conference, Procurement has a branding problem.
It’s no doubt that as marketing procurement continues to evolve – the ultimate value, mission, and partnership with the marketers and company they intend to serve is still a daily struggle for most. One of the things that left a Heisman-like impression on my mind was one person commenting that Marketing often gives Procurement colleagues the proverbial “stiff arm” to limit their involvement. And when Marketing and Procurement don’t operate as trusted allies, Procurement isn’t invited to the table often enough. They can’t add strategic value. And, while both sides are undoubtedly operating with the best interests in mind, without that ideal symbiotic partnership, the ultimate loser in this standoff is the business, which squanders potential strategic advantage.
As Day One conference chair, I had dozens of conversations before and during the event with senior procurement managers and marketing professionals. The gap between Procurement and Marketing feels very familiar to me. It’s exactly the gap my company, BrandActive, works to bridge every day. As rebrand implementation experts, we help companies accurately scope, estimate, and then manage the logistics of rebranding everything a company has from signs, fleet, uniforms, marketing assets, and products right down to IT systems, HR, legal, and everything in between. These complex undertakings always involve both Marketing and Procurement as thousands of new things need to be optimally purchased and implemented. After years of doing this work, I can attest that businesses get the best results when both functions align their objectives and activities. (That’s why a big part of BrandActive’s job is putting in place the communication and logistics to get everyone working together).
There was a lot to take away from the ProcureCon Marketing conference, and I look forward to and welcome the follow-up dialogue. In the meantime, here are some top-of-mind takeaways:
- Leaving “Procurement” behind. Many attendees have already made the linguistic leap and are calling it “strategic sourcing”, “commercial”, or other variations that communicate more strategic value. This is a unique thing that offers a unique value equation—and a unique career path if leveraged properly. Think of it as category branding and look to tech companies for an example of companies that have defined their category to unlock strategic value. This level of internal branding can give Procurement professionals permission to act as consultants who achieve business objectives and deliver value, not just run RFPs.
- Everyone needs to get out of their comfort zone. Traditionally, Procurement runs a controlled process designed to produce lowest cost. Traditionally, Marketing does not. It leans more on partnership, relationship, creativity, legacy, and the more intangible attributes of contractual relationships. Over and over, we heard the need for Procurement to thoroughly understand Marketing’s objectives as this is the foundation for bringing value that matters. Procurement’s aim needs to be bringing structure and process to these objectives, making sure the right partner is selected to meet them, and then ensuring vendors are engaged at the right price with the right controls.
- Strategy matters when making in-house vs. agency decisions. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding which marketing functions and technologies should remain in house and which to outsource. This process should start and end with healthy dialogue between Marketing, Procurement, and yes, agencies. A strong recommendation from many at the conference was for companies to consolidate and take ownership of their martech stack, data, analytics, and web platforms. As someone that professionally “grew-up” on the tech side of organizational change programs and now works with many Global Fortune 100 companies, I’ve seen the difficulties companies face when this isn’t their reality. So, I couldn’t agree more with this recommendation. From there, it becomes a matter of what it makes business sense to own. For those making the decision to own, there were many cautions, not the least of which were the risks associated with keeping up with fast-moving technology, talent, and trends.
- Learn to appreciate the creativity of Procurement and the analytical abilities of Marketing. Did I mean to write that Procurement can be creative and marketing can be analytical? Yes. Both sides actually possess both mindsets. I’ve seen Procurement come up with creative ways to improve the quality of deliverables, improve the controls, improve data management and analytics, and so on. In kind, Marketing can be quite analytical about defining the future state and what they want to achieve from their vendors. Yet, they don’t completely know how to get their partners to perform. This is what opens up the door to a natural partnership between Marketing and Procurement.
- For Procurement, education = opportunity. In the strategic sourcing environment, Procurement, Marketing and outside agencies need to share what they know. Agencies need to take the time to educate Procurement staff on emerging technologies and trends—just as they do for Marketing staff. Procurement professionals without a marketing background need to sharpen their knowledge of the field. And Marketing needs to understand more about what Procurement does. One solution is an interdepartmental job exchange program to allow Procurement and Marketing staff the chance to walk in each other’s shoes. These activities can produce deeper understanding, better relationships, and better decisions. For Procurement, take advantage of the opportunities at your disposal to get educated. Have conversations with the staff at your agencies. Learn from them by probing, challenging them, sharing your needs and educating them in return on how they can work better with Procurement. All of this will help you surface ideas understand how to be an even better partner to your Marketing colleagues.
The bonus: more career tracks will open to those Procurement professionals with a broader perspective on the business. They may find their way to other senior jobs outside of Procurement as a business leader able to bring functions together and drive business results in a way that isn’t solely focused on “buy that and buy it cheaper.”
To sum up, rebranding anything is always about more than creating a new name and logo. It takes a lot of hard work to actually implement the change, behave differently, and change perceptions to drive action. I’m looking forward to returning to ProcureCon Marketing next year to check the status of this important rebranding initiative.