Recently I was approached by the head of CISP Australia (Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply), Jonathan Dutton to be their after dinner speaker at the Women in Procurement Conference on 19 June 2008.

This was a new event on CIPSA’s calendar which provided a unique educational and networking opportunity for those interested in the advancement of women within the procurement profession. While procurement has traditionally been a very male-dominated profession, an increasing number of women have achieved success and recognition in recent years. The conference aimed to examine the challenges women face as they try to make their way in this male-dominated environment and what lessons can be learned from those who have successfully gone before them.

So given my career background in sales it may have seemed like an odd choice to have me as their after dinner speaker. In fact if the truth be known they probably came to the conference to get away from people like me.

However the organisers had their reasons. They asked me if I would be prepared to give the audience an insight into what it is like being in sales today, what it’s like from the other side of the table and, in particular, what it’s like to be a sales woman in what has been a traditionally male dominated environment.

Given the tradition male orientation of sales and procurement, I thought that maybe it would be a good opportunity for women in procurement and women in sales to reflect on what we work with everyday and what we would like to see happen in the world of business to make our lives and those we work and interact with better.

In preparing for this presentation, I also realised that I had never given any real considered thought to the world of procurement and in particular women in procurement. I know technically speaking any sale is a form of procurement however I have always thought in terms of the ‘customer’ not procurement specifically.

While I have selectively responded to many an RFP in my time, participated in formal procurement processes good and bad and worked with various stake holders on large projects over the years, I realised that I had viewed procurement as a process rather than considering the people involved in the process. I realised I had missed something important. So I saw this invitation as an opportunity for me to learn more about the world of procurement and share experiences as women in business.

This was the fist time I had ever been asked to speak to formally to people in Procurement and I understand this was a first for CIPS Australia as well.

In preparation for this talk I contacted and spoke with a number of women in procurement. I asked them about their views and thoughts around sales people, being a woman in procurement and the changes they are seeing taking place in the world of business today.

Here is what the women had to say:

  • They were sick of dealing with sales people who promised the world and didn’t deliver what they say they would
  • or sales people who are too pushy and tried to bully their way into a sale by aggressive or intimidatory means
  • or sales people who didn’t listen to want you needed and just gave you want they wanted to sell
  • They were tired of the professional visitors masquerading as sales people who only want to ‘do coffee’
  • They wanted sales people to educate not just gesticulate.
  • They were also frustrated by their own managers who went behind their backs to do ‘deals’ and didn’t respect the procurement process, or managers who wouldn’t look outside the square at new opportunities, innovations or ideas or other suppliers who could bring better business outcomes
  • And the women didn’t want to go out and have lunch or dinner or drinks to ‘do the deal’ for all sorts of reasons including: they don’t have the time, they’re not interested, it’s not transparent, it could lead to other unsavory conclusions being made, and its OH SO 20th century.

They also pointed out the following to me:

  • They are noticing many of the younger sales people are taking a far more professional approach to selling, are better informed, more business savvy and are better to deal with overall than the more traditional transactional sales person who remained too product focused and blokey.
  • They believed that Procurement started from the top down and the more informed their people were about the business, personal and global benefits of procurement practices the better it would be for all concerned.
  • They stated that their ability to communicate and take quality briefs from their key stake holders was critical to their success.
  • They stated that the ability to assess the total live cost of procurement was critical as this related to the opportunity to really make a difference around overall sustainability, business viability, the environment and cost effective solutions.
  • They realised that procurement was more than just a numerical figure on a spread sheet and they were looking for real value add in the form of other services, creative ideas and innovative thinking to solve otherwise to hard to solve problems.
  • That procurement need to professionalise itself even more with better education and better career paths.
  • And rather than the adversarial model that is often talked about and promoted in business they see and regard a more professional consultative model as being better able to serve their needs to make informed business decisions based on value at all level not just economic ones.

These findings came as no surprise to me because this is what I am finding out in the sales field and what my Sell Like A Woman research has also highlighted.

I went on to give them overview of the changing face of sales and the shift away from the old stereo types and approaches which are making way for a more enlightened, consultative, big picture focused, business oriented, cooperative sales person who is well organised, disciplined, can prospect proactively, is fully aware of their product and business’ value to their customer market, their competitive edge and how to make business work for them and their customers.

Next week I will delve further into the view from the other side of the table and how, we, as sales people, view procurement and some of the practices which help or hinder sales and partnership effectiveness. And what our common enemy is.

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