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5 ways to get your 2021 relationship with procurement right

Recently our CMO, Sarah Shilling sat down with Tina Fegent, independent marketing procurement consultant – to talk about the challenges we’ve faced over the past year and those we’ll face in the coming year. Here’s a brief summary of the key points but, click here to listen in to listen in to their full and fascinating discussion. While you are there, please subscribe to our ongoing Unthinkable Marketing podcast series.

Starting from a low base

There is no doubt that the introduction of procurement into the purchasing of marketing services created mixed feelings. While it was only natural for corporations to want to ensure that they were investing wisely, frugally, and efficiently, the view from the supplier side wasn’t always as accepting. How could you buy marketing services as if they were just so many piles of paperclips?

The past year of challenge has made everyone examine their cost base even more closely than before meaning that procurement processes are going to the norm rather than the exception and this is all but certain to the case routinely, going forwards:

“Over the past year the real focus has been on budgets and getting better value from a possibly reduced marketing budget.”

Sarah Shilling

But procurement is not what it was. Like many industries and specialisms, it too is pivoting, reinventing itself and undergoing profound challenge and change, making it both more productive for its host organisations but also more aware of the marketing industry offerings that it seeks to evaluate. We’ve come up with the following five tips to make sure that, whatever your perspective, procurement works for you.

1. Leverage procurement’s move to the top table

The heightened focus on costs and efficiency during the pandemic have elevated the importance and visibility of procurement within organisations, to such a degree that it is more often taking a place at the top levels of large corporations. No longer is it merely a final-stage, box-ticking exercise that is just about saving money. Increasingly, procurement starts right at the beginning of initiatives, offering strategic guidance about what services to buy into, not just where to buy them best and cheapest.

“The pandemic has ensured that procurement now has a better seat at the table, they are more aligned with the c-suite and the CFO in particular and it is no longer just something that is thought about right at the end of a process. It has become more of a strategic driver of action.”

Tina Fegent

For those offering marketing services, this is driving both different conversations and more ongoing and mature relationships with procurement staff. Service providers need to think very differently about how they engage with procurement teams and the kinds of information and responses they provide them with.

2. Double-down on education, research and communication

Despite the crucial importance of winning new business to the ongoing survival of many agencies, the view from the procurement industry is still one of a lack of preparation in submissions. Most are solely fixated on the financials and there is not enough effort being made to fully understand who they are dealing with, with personalities, challenges and a new mindset. There are also some basic errors too, and too little effort on demonstrating (and showing the ROI for) previous work done for that client.

“I see responses where companies have made simple errors. So maybe they’ve said that they’ve previously done a really good job so far for that client, but they haven’t actually put that across, explaining clearly what they have done and what was the added value.”

Tina Fegent


3. Be ready for the coming of ProcureTech

Procurement is rapidly starting to catch up with digital innovation. Routine tasks like purchase orders, invoicing and setting up new suppliers on financial systems will soon be automatable, streamlining the process, and freeing up procurement staff to focus on adding even more value. It will also start to enable buyers to more quickly and easily find authoritative and credible background information on which to base their purchase decisions. BT’s recent decision to move its procurement operations to Dublin under a new €14.5Bn subsidiary will ramp up procurement processes, not just for BT but for the whole industry.

“Up until now procurement has been largely left behind in the digital revolution but this is starting to change. We’ll see more content, more webinars, more platforms, more conferences, bots, process streamlining . It will be a revolution for procurement.”

Tina Fegent

4. Get yourself on Clubhouse

The recent launch of the invitation-based, audio-only social app Clubhouse has caused something of a sensation in marketing circles (at least for iPhone owners) and procurement is becoming a part of that conversation. Tina Fegent runs a Clubhouse procurement room on Tuesdays at 4 p.m. and the wide variety of conversations that have already taken place show both the interest in and the rapid development of procurement as a discipline, as well as spiralling into a whole range of related and unrelated business challenges. She’s a real advocate for this new medium but the broader lesson for those selling marketing services is to leverage all sources of information, including things like Clubhouse, to better get yourself inside the minds of the buyers you are hoping to convince.

“Clubhouse has rapidly improved and is becoming a wonderful forum for meeting interesting people, sharing opinions and learning. While brands haven’t really got heavily involved yet, they will.”

Tina Fegent

5. Stay agile and in touch

The pandemic has had different effects on us all. Some have thrived, some have suffered, and we see this in businesses too. Ultimately, everyone needs to show some adaptability and flexibility too, and that goes for both sides of the procurement equation.

“If you’ve got 20 different agency models, to fit 20 different clients, you need to have the agility and the flexibility. And I think that’s what we’re seeing from a lot of the bigger holding companies now. Clients don’t want to deal with three levels of Account Management and three levels of creative directors, etc. They want the people to work on the account and they want responsiveness.”

Tina Fegent

Making the best of difficult times

All businesses have had difficult times but the signs for the future are now more hopeful. As brands step up their activities they will start to spend again, but they will now do so with a newly reset procurement approach and marketers need to embrace that wholeheartedly.

“I can’t wait to get back to normal, but we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I think it has been palpable the shift in energy even in the past two to three weeks”

Sarah Shilling

This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at UNLIMITED.