CPOs: The Five Steps To Win Your Seat at the Table

December 6, 2022

Our mission

Author: CEO & Founder of Trusli, Gloria Qiao 

1. Educate

Many seasoned procurement professionals, especially those who come from companies like Apple where procurement is naturally in the driver’s seat, take offense when people don’t know who they are and what they do. 

But let’s face it. Ignorance is bliss. When I used to tell people that I was head of indirect procurement, half of them didn’t know what that was. The other half who understood “indirect” to mean things that don’t go into the BOM would assume that I bought chairs. I did. Or a huge screen for Tim Kentley Klay. But I was also in charge of hundreds of millions of spend on cloud services, simulation, annotation, mapping, engineering services, and construction, to name a few. 

But that’s not the point. The point is there is no benefit in being hurt or offended by ignorance.  The first step is to educate. 

When I was freshly recruited by a CFO, I assembled an extensive slide deck describing what strategic sourcing is, the various types of procurement, and what a robust procurement team should look like–with each commodity assigned a dedicated manager and commodity strategy. 

Of course, Rome is not built overnight. Educating your boss, your CEO, the other cross-functional teams, and the overall company is only half of the battle. Which takes me to my next point. 

2. Evangelize

On the engineering side, we often see roles such as Developer Evangelist or Technology Evangelist.  This is how procurement should think about how to communicate, educate, and convey a clear message about the value-add. 

The first prerequisite to evangelizing is passion.  

I have seen many procurement managers just laboring through the tasks at hand without expressing their passion or love for what they do, even though they may feel so at heart.  That’s the wrong approach. 

Let the passion show. Tell people why this line of work is so important, how much you enjoy doing it, and why doing it well will bring huge value to the company. 

The second key factor to evangelizing is to earn respect to build an “aura”.

No one will listen to your preaching if you don’t appear to be worthy.  So for that, you need to prove to the team that you will be their trusted advisor and you will bring value to the table. More on that in the next point. 

Finally, to successfully evangelize the procurement function, you must craft a clear message about the value proposition, and back it up with data and actions.

If you are not ambitious enough with a big proposal such as “a dollar saved is two dollars earned”, no one will pay attention. But when you do, make sure you are not just providing lip service.  Show them how it works. 

3. Prove

Once you have taken the time to educate the team and evangelize the procurement function, it’s time to get to work. And oftentimes, it means you alone will do a lot of work before you can earn their respect and show results.  That is ok. 

After I painted a big picture to my CFO, I got to work. Within months I saved the company $1M, which I set as a one-year goal. By that time, the math was clear. If I can do that as one person, what if we can bring our spend under management to 50% or 80% and achieve the same results with all of that? 

To show values, procurement leaders must be disciplined and meticulous about metrics. That’s why it’s critically important to measure everything and report on key metrics. In addition, also educate and evangelize about how these metrics work. For example, the metric “savings” is often misunderstood and challenged: what if you ask the supplier to give you an inflated first quote? Such silly presumptions must be addressed head-on and with conviction: if I weren’t here, guess what, whichever first quote you got, that’s what you are paying! And who’s got time to ask for inflated quotes since I’ve got hundreds of millions of spend to manage :). 

Similarly, procurement leaders also need to educate and evangelize other less obvious metrics. For example, we always talk about cycle time and efficiency. What’s the value to the company if the engineers get what they need on time, as opposed to being delayed for weeks or months and having to sit on their hands waiting for parts or services? 

All of the metrics need to be tracked, consolidated, and presented to management regularly, with accurate data. For this, procurement leaders need procurement technology such as Trusli with an end-to-end solution to track their deals and metrics. 

4. Fight

Once we educate, communicate, and evangelize, it’s time for a battle. 

As always, no one will hand anything on a silver platter. Procurement leaders must advocate for themselves with data, results, and conviction. 

We have to speak with confidence and conviction. We have to be proactive and even aggressive. We fight for resources, acknowledgment, and a seat at the table. Not saying anything or not asking for anything is not the way to gain that.  

5. Collaborate

Finally, no one likes a leader who is there to get ahead at the expense of others. For that, we must learn to collaborate effectively with all our counterparties and cross-functional teams, be it engineering, finance, HR, or legal. 

Ultimately, people will recognize our value when we show them that we are experts in the field, we are there for them when they need us, and we can deliver value. Granted, there are always times when we may have a conflict. For example, by not rubber stamping engineering requests and taking the time to verify the needs and find the best deals, we may get accused of “delaying” them.  Similarly, when we trade fast execution for a little bit of money, finance may think we left money on the table. That is all OK.  Procurement is a highly cross-functional operation, and we must constantly weigh pros and cons and navigate through trade-offs among the different departments. 

However, because we strive to be trusted advisors, once we show our expertise, our strategic view, and our ability to deliver results, we will earn respect and, oftentimes, friendships from these other groups. Hopefully, we can earn our seat at the table and be considered to be equal to the CFO, the COO, the General Counsel and the Chief People Officer. 

CPOs: The Five Steps To Win Your Seat at the Table Musical Chairs
CPOs: The Five Steps To Win Your Seat at the Table