B2B Purchasing.

I was called ‘inflexible’. I’ve been called a good number of things in my time, but inflexible? In B2B purchasing? Really?

I strive for ‘cool’. I may not achieve the goal consistently, but strivingness is next to godliness… Being inflexible in B2B purchasing isn’t me. If I’ve learned anything in the world of B2B marketing, it is to be bendier than the bendiest bendy thing. Not in the biblical sense. Obviously. ‘Inflexible’? Moi?

I was visibly upset. At the time of the effrontery, I was accused of not responding quickly enough to the client’s request to kick-start our inaugural project. That ‘first project’ is always an important one. Its success or failure is likely to shape the ongoing client relationship, so to hear that I’d been inflexible at this early stage was a concern. Getting that initial project started was my responsibility. But now I was ‘inflexible’. And devastated.

So I delved a bit deeper. How had I been inflexible? “Well…” the client began, “…you refused to start the project before we had issued you with a Purchase Order.” Right. But where was I inflexible?, I pressed. That, it transpired, was the full extent of my inflexibility.

“All of our other agencies just get on with it”, the client continued, “We don’t have time for Purchase Orders – if we had to wait for Purchasing for every requirement, we’d never get anything done.”

I used the ‘With the greatest respect’ line.

“With the greatest respect,” I said, “I submitted a Proposal that I would have been happy to action with a handshake until you insisted that I would have to ‘go through Purchasing’. This I duly did – the consequences of which were protracted negotiations and the terms of which required me specifically, in writing, NOT to undertake any work without a signed Purchase Order. Those were your terms. Not mine. It then took you three weeks to sign the Purchase Order causing a project delay of, unsurprisingly, three weeks. So I did exactly and precisely what you asked me to do… and that makes me ‘inflexible’?” “Yeah, but you know what I mean”, he replied.

Erm, nope, I’m afraid I skipped the Telepathy class at Hogwarts.

“We just needed to get on with it,” he said. “Well, you should have thought of that before invoking the Purchasing Protocol,” I replied. “These other agencies that ‘just get on with it’,” I continued, “do they ever actually get paid?” “Now that you mention it, that’s a bit of a problem actually – it’s those people in Purchasing – they’re a nightmare”, he said. “Or maybe they just need everyone to quote a Purchase Order Number?” I offered, helpfully. “Just like I did. Just as you asked me to. Just as I should.” “Mmmmm…”

At that point, I felt the flexibility returning to my inexplicably tense shoulders and I particularly noticed the dexterity of my index finger as I poked the client firmly in the eye.

But even as he sat there, wiping the tears from his streaming eye, I had the impression that he still didn’t get it. I’m no big fan of the Purchasing or Procurement Department, but I also recognise that, particularly in larger companies, they facilitate the business of business. Long before the initial engagement and long after the excitement of the creative presentation or the final client approval, the Purchasing Team in its many guises keeps the wheels turning. And that means if they exist and they need a Purchase Order Number – I’m happy to build that into the project requirement and I’m happy to wait three weeks for a number to be provided because however important my direct client contact is, he’s not cutting the cheques.

We all want to ‘just get on with it’, and keeping the client happy is clearly a priority, but, ‘with the greatest respect’, so is the mortgage.

Scot McKee