For those readers who are unaware, procurement in the marketing industry is a services profiling and selection process that many larger organisations must go through when considering new suppliers. There are professionals out there whose job it is to develop processes that create the greatest chance of selecting the most suitable supplier for the company.
In my experience, it will usually consist of:
- An initial questionnaire, which attempts to immediately identify tell-tale signs of the qualities the company is looking for in an agency/supplier. If you get through this stage,
- The pitch: a face-to-face response to a brief, usually by way of presentation. And then,
- Negotiations, if you’re lucky enough to get this far.
The difficult thing for suppliers throughout this process (speaking from personal experience once again) is that it is usually very closed-off. By this I mean that you aren’t really allowed any direct communication with anyone involved on the company side. Those in charge of procurement have to be very careful to make sure that this process is as fair as possible, and spending time speaking to a particular supplier could be perceived as giving them an unfair advantage. Needless to say, in some instances when procurement teams are looking at upwards of 40 suppliers for a single service, it would also be very difficult to spend time speaking to everyone. There are usually Q&A windows throughout the earlier stages in which you can submit written questions, but I believe that written questions and responses can sometimes be misunderstood (as I have found through email on a number of occasions).
Taking all this into consideration, I thought it would be useful if we could make contact with some people in the procurement industry and, bearing in mind that these conversations happened outside any procurement process, I asked them to contribute some advice. I believe that these people, having to deal with supplier selection on a day-to-day basis, would have the most experience in appointing suppliers, and therefore be able to contribute advice that would help me/us be successful in any selection process, whatever the size of the organisation.
I asked a number of people the same question: “What is the one piece of advice you would give to an individual/agency to give them the best chance of success when you are looking at them as a potential supplier?”
I intentionally left this as open as possible because I wanted people to respond with what they believed to be the most important aspects of the selection process.
To illustrate how closed procurement can be, I spoke to roughly 16 organisations, the majority of which were either unwilling or unable to respond. But three individuals have kindly submitted their responses.
- The opinions expressed below are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organisations they represent.
- We have kept the responses anonymous unless requested by the individual.
Philip Brown – Head of Purchasing at CrossCountry Trains and Public Speaker at Sans Souci Speakers
Philip’s response relates to the earlier stages of the procurement process.
“A single piece of advice is a tall order as I genuinely feel there are several principle guidelines I would advocate to support a successful outcome. However, couple this with a very BIG caveat (this is my personal view as a Purchaser and not a Marketer), I would advocate my single piece of advice as:
Answer the Questions (and no more) – I spend a lot of time with my marketing colleagues assessing our own needs and thinking through the type of agency we might need. A good proportion of this time is spent determining the questions, which includes writing out potential responses, and the assessment criteria to be used to help short list the agencies. This is particularly important during the early stages given there can be quite a number of initial interested agencies invited and it takes a great deal of time and concentration to work through these.
It is therefore a real struggle, coupled with frustration, when an agency decides to respond with far more detail than is reasonably required and includes additional details that were unrequested.
Picking an agency is an important and risky prospect. Should you (the Agency) receive a poorly written and confusing pitch invite from a new prospect then I suggest you think twice. If you can’t respond with a succinct and professional delivery at this stage then what makes you think it will be any better if you win them as your client.”
“Looking at this question in the context of procurement, any answer needs be somewhat qualified.
“Procurement should be totally agnostic when it comes to supplier preference and the suggestion here seems to be, that by giving an agency a key piece of advice could well position them to win business. This is something that (I at least) would not be in favour of. Procurement might – and sometimes do – give all respondents in a RFP situation, some overall guidance or hint as to what the client might be looking for in their responses, however that advice should be given to all participants not just one, otherwise that would suggest a “pre-made” preference towards one supplier to the detriment of others. Also, in my experience, it’s not procurement alone that makes the final decision. The process normally involves a number of stakeholders reviewing submissions, fee models, responses and “beauty parades” upon which any final decision should be based.
As you know the marketing category is both complex and wide ranging, so whilst not wishing to appear pedantic in any away, it would also depend upon what area of marketing services we’re talking about. Any advice that might be given to a lead strategic/creative agency would doubtless be quite different to advice given to a production/implementation agency. One you can’t commoditise – the other you could i.e. the former might well be around adding value or P4P, the latter would likely be around about efficiencies and cost.”
This respondent needed a bit of clarification on such an open question, but after briefly explaining that we wanted advice for people outside the process, they submitted the following answer:
“I suppose that outside of the formal process, I would advise that prospective suppliers should thoroughly research the client organisation as deeply and thoroughly as they can – demonstrate their knowledge of the client’s history, products and past successes and failures. They should demonstrate clear sector experience and align this to clear, proven case studies. At the end of the day, the perceived cultural “fit” is an undeniably critical factor along with market insight, innovation and depending on the service, a willingness to potentially share risk.”
“A very simple piece of advice to help give the best chance of success to a potential supplier, is to start creating a basic relationship with your procurement contact. A lot of time is invested on the business relationship side, but a lot can be gained by being flexible, listening and willing to work with your procurement contact so you reach a win / win position. This helps all aspects run smoothly. We have targets just as you do – do you know what they are? We have all heard the sales pitch many times before – I am sure I am not alone when I say we would prefer a simple, quick chat on the phone – we get so many calls there would not be enough time in the day to see you all.. So please don’t ask.”
Some interesting opinions! I would like to thank everyone who took the time to contribute to this post and share their advice.
What’s your impression of these responses?