The cooperation between the buyer and the internal client may be impeded due to many aspects such as divergent requirements and needs or the lack of communication. What kind of behaviour will make the collaboration more effective?
High requirements vs. actual needs
Products purchased by majority of entities with purchasing defined as a strategic function are usually the autonomous decision of the internal client. With this vision, the role of purchasing departments is solely to provide service and buy what is needed for the internal clients at the moment. In such a case, purchasing is treated as “supply”, thus making the internal client a dominating party in this relationship. If purchasers are resistant about a purchase, they often have to face manipulative expressions, e.g. “extraction is withheld” (implying: the reason is YOUR opposition), “production is threatened”, “quality is at risk”. With such and similar dramatic phrases, the internal clients attempt to manipulate less experienced buyers. The consequences are often miserable. It is because if an organisation needs a low-budget car, and the internal client insists on buying a Mercedes, the company is loosing money that could otherwise generate profit. In such a situation, provided that the position of the purchasing department within the enterprise structure allows for it, the purchasing specialist should be a buffer between unreasonable demands of the internal client and the actual needs of the company. This is why, each conscious organisation should ask the question about the purpose and, consequently, the features of a purchase before the purchasing process is started, and preferably as early as at the stage of planning the purchase of a product or service.
Dialogue is the key
Conscious organisations engage the purchasing into the dialogue with the internal client when a product or service is at the designing stage. Therefore, a purchaser is not a process engineer, but rather an asker of all questions whose task is to understand and make others (internal clients) realise why a given product is needed and what features it should have. If the internal client has been persuaded that a Mercedes is not what it needs for driving around the warehouse site, then does a low-budget car really needs to have electric mirrors? If they are necessary for maintaining the quality or compliance with corporate requirements, the cooperation has been successful, but maybe the internal client failed to consider its actual needs.
Another popular example is a secretary who usually prints out only 50 pages a month in black and white and therefore does not need a colour printer with the capacity of 10 thousand copies and three conveyors, full colour print. Making such a purchase order by the internal client (a secretary) and its delivery by the purchasing department would be a serious miscommunication and an example of building specifications based on the product features instead of the needs. It is worth to mention that every unjustified purchase causes excessive costs for the company.
There is a great number of similar examples across all sectors. Thus, it should be remembered that when submitting purchase orders to purchasing departments, people often act in a schematic way and follow proven patterns. The role of the purchasing specialist it to trace those patterns and recommend a different solution. Evidently, the dialogue with the internal client is the clue of building the specification of the function rather than of the product.
What about outsourcing…?
Referring to the cars example – if there are no tools, procedures, and most importantly, the culture of internal cooperation, then the purchasing department could well be eliminated. In today’s market, we have specialist companies who deal with purchasing appropriate goods and services from selected contractors – they act faster, at lower cost and more effectively than the supply department. Then however, no one will ask if “the electric mirrors” are necessary or if a given valve has to be certified as resistant to all the oils and petrol in the world, though it will be used only for cutting of the water, etc. There will also be no person/organisation that would “force” the internal client to think, self-improve and explore new solutions.