Average Rating: 4.7
Your rating: none

How to Get Into Your Buyer's Head

Journey into the mind of a typical purchasing agent

by Malcolm Mills

Malcolm Mills

Professional sellers (like all you folks in industrial sales) should sometimes consider thinking inside the box! It’s time to get inside the head of procurement folks.

Some of those buyers’ heads are pretty pointy and narrow and there’s not much room for expansion of thought. But for the sake of saying we tried, take a trip with me into the mind of a typical purchasing manager.

Just keep this in mind as we begin. In this struggling global economy, we will grow our way out of this recession just as we’ve grown out of every other obstacle in the past. New problems become old problems in new packaging. What is different is our outlook, how we are going to improve so as not to fall into the same quagmire we just vacated.

Most of the changes we’re soon to face in 2010-11 are typical in all industries. Who hasn’t experienced downsizing in both sales and procurement departments? Whose budgets haven’t been slashed, roles ransacked, responsibilities quadrupled, wages frozen or reduced? And the outlook is for a lot more of the same. So why not look at it the way the other person sees the recovery? You already know what your own company is facing; can your clients be facing anything different? What’s inside those tiny grey cells of theirs anyway?

Get a grip, Braveheart, and we’ll see what our purchasing hero is thinking today. Recognize her? It’s the purchasing guru from your largest account. You’re going in . . .

“Man, its dark in here. It’s like being in a coal mine. I’m standing on something soft and squishy. Thank goodness, I think I see a light over there. It’s a long way off and growing brighter as I approach. There’s also a loud humming all around me.

“What’s this? I’m looking at a familiar office. I’ve been here before. Someone’s working on an Excel spreadsheet! I’ve got a ringside seat to whatever she’s up to. I know this person. I’ll make a killing. I feel like Mel Gibson in that movie “What Women Want.” I’ll know everything she wants! Oh, this is good. Competition, you’re so dead. This lady is one hard cookie to please.

“Whoa, remember that hum? It’s the roar of a gazillion voices. I can hear her thoughts. Hold it, the light’s getting really bright now, too. Her fingers are flying on a keyboard. She’s typing. Where’s my laptop when I need it?

“I wish I had my iPhone. A dominating voice is dictating. Look out, the lady is on a mission. Looks like she’s mapping out the new year agenda for herself. Her lofty goals for 2010. I’ve been meaning to do that myself actually.”

2010 - Vision/Plan – 

Oh, this is good. I’ll shut up now. I don’t want to miss this. Look what she’s writing . . .”

1) Measure my own value - define the criteria for becoming a better purchasing professional

“Wow, do people actually DO this?”

A. Measurable dollar value cost savings - target 15%

“Right. She’ll be lucky to get 10% in this economy.”

B. Continuity of supply – improve

“I know we’re good here. We can get what they need. Well, most of the time anyway.”

C. Reduction in supplier base – weed

“How can she weed US out? We’re a sole source in quite a few products. You can’t weed me.”

D. Performance evaluation – myself and my suppliers – record

“Right. Like she’s going to evaluate herself. I hope she does. It’ll keep her mind off our performance.”

2) Measuring value in my customers – determine metrics supporting vision and goals I set for myself

2.1 Cost savings. Cost savings must be realized Develop ways to achieve this

A. Source new suppliers with better pricing

“Again? Don’t they ever quit?”

B. Negotiate with present suppliers (once again)

Document and set date for all deliverables

“I’ll schmooze her by showing her the value we bring, plus I’ll wear my new suit.”

C. Educate myself on the markets, raw materials costs. Monitor weekly

“Right. I barely do that myself.”

D. Research alternate products (have engineering approve)

“Hmmm, don’t like the sound of that.”

2.2 Continuity of supply. Late shipments cost us money. Back orders cost us money. Reduce these.

A. Action - measure supplier performance better

“She’ll need better software.”

B. Review last year’s “percentage of on-time delivery” for all our major suppliers

“That’s not good. I’ll call her and tell her how good we’re doing. It’ll put her off the scent.”

C. Record and assess all supplier problems. Report dollar losses, downtime, back orders, etc.


3) Measure per metric - determine the value separating “good” supplier performance from “average” or “mediocre” performance

A. Assess each situation and source of unacceptable performance

B. Determine and record actual losses and extrapolate the cost savings captured by improvements

4) Measure/establish a baseline - define what is acceptable, mediocre, unacceptable, good or above average supplier behavior

A. Apply the measure to yourself

B. Apply to your customer base

C. Stick with that standard

5) Seek and measure improvement opportunities - identify changes to help improve your own numbers

A. Meet with production managers

B. Review findings and meet with current suppliers

C. Source improved technologies, materials

6) Gain management backing - sell your plan to improve performance

A. Work with staff

B. Establish procedures/policy

C. Apply the changes

7) Hold yourself accountable - establish methods to ensure focus

A. Use simple management (charts, spreadsheets)

B. Establish reward system for all

“Holy Mackerel, this gal has a plate full. I wonder where she’ll start? She’ll likely begin with her largest suppliers. Egads, I think that’s us! Hey, maybe I can influence her thinking now that I’m inside!

“Caramba, what’s going on now? I’m beginning to fade, my feet are gone, my legs are disappearing. No! A half hour can’t be gone already! Curse you Purchasing Magi!

In the old days you could maintain and keep your customers once you’d won them the first time, with buck knives and Jim Beam. That pretty much ended in the ’80s. Today there are two basic essentials to maintaining lasting business relationships: 1) Performance and 2) Pricing (not always in that order).

There are also two “givens.” 1) You will not have consistently flawless performance (crap happens) and 2) You won’t always have the best pricing (competition exists).

Back to Mel Gibson. The thing that makes you stand out above the rest and oils the machine when it begins to wear is what you know about your customer. Success ties directly to how you view your customers’ problems and how you go about addressing them.

The purchasing agent in the tale above had a plan and a vision for the year. She is set on measuring performance, both her own and the people she conducts business with. Yet she is obviously open to new ideas and seeks to identify measurable values. Price is only part of it; she wants a lean and transparent process.

You have a choice. Get inside her head or imagine that you’re inside her head. Now, think of ways to address her goals and problems. If you do this properly you will gain measurable advantage over your competitors.

One last thought. Software systems are the biggest boon (and an equal bane) in our business lives. Remember that angle. How can you integrate systems? How can your systems unite? Make it simple and sweet. And remember, it’s a team effort. Use your team, your imagination and your head to get inside your clients!

Malcolm Mills is available for speaking engagements at corporate functions or seminars. His book “It’s a Tough World Out There - 25 Ways to Lose a Customer 25 Ways to Fix It” is available through Xlibris Publishing or by contacting Malcolm directly. E-mail: or telephone (902) 530-5952.

This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2010 edition of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2010, Direct Business Media, LLC.


Post comment / Discuss story * Required Fields
Your name:
E-mail *:
Comment *: