Ray Collis

It Is Time To Play By The Buyer’s Rules

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There are many things about modern buying that frustrate, even annoy, salespeople.  But top of the list is buying rules and procedures.  But this frustration is futile, even counter-productive.

As this article shows sellers should stop resisting the inevitable and learn to play by the rules.


Sellers Play By The Buyer's Rules


Complaining About The Rules?

Sellers regularly complain of buying procedures that result in more paperwork, uncertainty and cost.  Indeed, buyers tell us that sellers often vent their frustration at the requirements of buying process/rules – something that can amount to a red card offence.

This happens not only because these sellers don’t understand why rules are necessary, but cannot empathise with what the buyer’s must do to get the purchase approved.  But what is the point in sellers getting frustrated or annoyed with buyers who are simply doing their job?

Rules Are A Fact Of Life!

Sellers shouldn’t feel so hard done by – they are not the only ones affected by the rules and procedures that govern buying in large organizations.

A senior public sector buyer provides a window onto a day in the life of a buyer bound by rules.  Let’s let her explain in her own words:

‘The number of calls to my office has doubled or tripled in the past 12 months’.  ‘We have in effect become a procurement helpline!’

‘People from right across the organisation ring up to ask ‘Can we do this?’, or ‘How do we do that?’ with respect to a purchase they must make.

‘They want to know what rules are involved, which ones can be bent and which ones cannot.  The only problem is that they often don’t like what I have to say.’

‘We have in effect become a procurement helpline!’

‘Some ring up looking for forgiveness… they are half way through a buying process but skipped a vital step.  They are looking for absolution – an ‘…it will be ok this time, just don’t do it again…’ The result is one of disappointment. ‘

‘Is that a new regulation?’ the callers will ask.  ‘No’ I answer ‘it is not new… it is just that it has not been consistently applied in the past’.

‘In recent years our budget increased annually and there was considerable autonomy over spending.  Now, the pendulum has swung the other way, perhaps too far.  From buying toilet paper to computer systems you must follow the rules!‘

‘All this can mean that procurement does not win you too many friends, but that is the new realities of buying (particularly in the public sector)’ she concluded.

As this example shows; the rules impact on buyer and seller alike.

The Rules Must Be Obeyed!

Just how important are the rules to buyers?  Well, the words spoken by a newly appointed University President to his Head of Procurement provide a clue:

‘…your number one job is to keep me out of the law courts’.

The job of the procurement manager, although narrowly defined, was clear.  Given that lawyers accounted for up to 30% of the attendance at a recent buyer symposium, the University President’s concern for avoiding litigation would appear to be well placed.

‘There is often a zero tolerance and zero risk approach to buying, where adhering to the rules is more important than saving money’ exclaimed a central bank buyer who had just moved from the private sector.   For those more familiar with public buying this is understandable.

Here is an sample of the paperwork from a University procurement team – in case the professional buyer was in any doubt the form spells it out – it asks for the name and number of the ‘accountable’ person.



‘…adhering to the rules is more important than saving money!’

‘If applying the rules is your job then that is what you are going to do, right?’ said the author of a forthcoming best practice buying guidebook.    ‘Put it this way’ he continued; ‘the main risk is not a sub-optimal choice, or the wrong decision, it is failing to adhere to the rules’.

The procurement consultant added: ‘If the wrong choice is made, but the right rules are applied then all is forgiven…   You can pay 5, 10, or 15 times more for it and even make the newspaper headlines, but as long as you follow the rules then you are safe.‘

Rules Pose Challenges For Buyers Too!

‘The rules pose challenges for buyers too’ said another procurement manager, adding that ‘there is no question but they increase the cost and complexity of buying.  This is particularly the case in the public arena, where the burden of regulation is causing high levels of confusion, even frustration for many buyers’.

‘In the public sector in particular, there are aspects of the job that have become quite painful in recent years’ said one long serving public

procurement manager.  ‘Before life was easy – you could pick who ever you wanted.  Now everything that you do is in fear of possible future litigation’ he added.

A consultant with one of Europe’s largest procurement consulting companies went even further to say; ‘the rules have taken the fun out of buying’.

‘the rules have taken the fun out of buying’

Has seeing the rules and regulations from the Buyer’s side can you temper your attitude to the formalities of buying?


If you would like to read the full whitepaper on this topic click here.

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