What do you want to be when you grow up???
Doctor, airplane pilot, astronaut, fireman, there are countless possibilities, but I doubt anyone has ever heard the answer, “I want to be a buyer!”
Especially in countries where the Supply Chain area has been more popular in the last few decades, education in the Purchasing area is still quite scarce and restricted. Typically, new buyers learn from more experienced buyers.
At the beginning of my purchasing career, I heard from my manager, who today is still one of my mentors, “Flavia, the purchasing career is not something you choose. You are chosen, and when it happens, you will never get away from it.” And that's exactly what happened to me. After almost 10 years in the Purchasing area, I sometimes tried to change the course of my career, but the “buyer blood,” spoke louder, and whenever I was involved in other projects, the buyer mindset was in charge (“Why did they choose this supplier? they don’t need it now! and they should buy it from the other one who’s already involved with something like that,” were frequent thoughts).
But, what does a buyer do? Obviously, buying!
But, it is not as simple as it seems. Worse, what’s almost as difficult as educating new buyers, is making others understand that they cannot be considered buyers because they simply know how to shop, research prices, and negotiate the purchase of an item in a store.
Supply Chain is an area that naturally attracts competitive people. Often, professionals in this area are looking for the best opportunity, the best deal, or advantage (this advantage, which will also be the subject of an upcoming article, is especially important in times when corruption is so evident). The Buyer's role is basically to make the source of supply available, whatever it is that is needed. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Before having the source (supplier) available to meet the demands of the area, there is the entire process of selecting the best supplier, and that is where the buyer has a fundamental role.
Let's take a practical example: When working in a company, large or small, there are dozens of requests of all kinds, from cleaning supplies to consulting services, including food and raw materials (in the case of an industry). How do you ensure that the chosen suppliers are the best? And how do you ensure that the “best” were classified using the correct criteria? What are the metrics that make an analysis a little subjective at first?
We will talk in the next article about one of my preferred methodologies for the selection of the source type (7 Steps of SSI - Strategic Sourcing Initiative). As important as knowing how to choose the best supplier is knowing how to get rid of the pitfalls of the worst suppliers. These are the suppliers that offer a product or service far below market value just to enter the business (and after a while they request an adjustment so that their price comes back at the correct level), suppliers who have great salespeople who handle information according to the buyer's needs (salespeople that know how to say what the buyer wants to hear), and suppliers who have no idea of their process and focus so much on the sale that afterwards, they are unable to meet the demand received, etc.
Generally, the necessary basis to build the knowledge of a buyer consists of the following personal characteristics: Honesty and ethics (above all!), emotional balance, responsibility, resilience, knowing how to work under pressure (internal or external), dynamism, and objectivity. In addition to the desire to keep up to date on issues that may influence the supply scenario, such as the world economy or the election of a new president in a certain country.
Another important behavior that I always try to pass on to my new buyers is “treat the company's money, as if it were yours”. As cliche as it sounds, those who work in the Purchasing area are used to thinking this way. For example, when I need to buy cleaning products for my house with my own money, do I go to the supermarket closest to home, which certainly has what I'm looking for? Or, do I walk a little further and go to the most distant supermarket, which announced the same product for a lower price, and take the risk of not finding what I need when I get there? What would you do if the money was yours?
This is a buyer's day to day: Analyze purchase requisitions (Do I even need to buy so many packs of paper for the printer? Will I gain some advantage with the supplier in terms of price or shipping optimization?), determine the best source of supplies based on the pool of existing suppliers and their strategy (Can I just buy paper at the stationery, or can I optimize the purchase of paper along with the envelopes and bargain a lower price? Should I buy the paper from stationery A, which has always been my supplier, but has been late in their deliveries lately, or start a partnership with supplier B, even if it is a spot purchase, just to create some competitiveness?), negotiate the commercial conditions with the chosen source (Are price, freight and payment terms in accordance with what my area / company has to spend with this material?) and operationalize the purchase (Is the chosen vendor already registered in the system? How did the supplier receive the order? Will it be sent electronically or will I need to send it by email and then request a confirmation of receipt? When and where will the delivery be made?), among others.
In some companies, there is a division of tasks between the Buyer and the Purchasing Assistant (or Analyst). The latter being responsible for the entire Purchase operation, while the first is the responsible for strategy and supplier determination, as well as performing the negotiation.
Is this day-to-day life something that attracts you? Professional and ethical buyers have been scarce lately, thus the demand for them has been great and rewarded with attractive wages. But, being a professional buyer goes far beyond "shopping" as already discussed here. Years of experience, courses, specializations, and above all, an understanding of how important Purchasing is in the whole supply chain.