Does Purchasing Need a Human Touch?

In today’s purchasing environment, we need new success factors to manage the current situation and shape the future. In view of the growing challenges and uncertainties, it is clear that something has to change — including purchasing. Yet does purchasing need a human touch? | bbernard

Let’s first take a look at what is meant by the “human touch.” By definition, the “human touch” means demonstrating empathy and understanding towards a fellow human being. But what does this mean for purchasing? You have probably heard me say, “The profit is in the purchase and it is made by people.” And once again, it’s a perfect fit. The human touch continues to gain significance. This becomes evident, for example, through the new supply chain law or the subject of sustainability. Negotiating at the same eye level and maintaining cooperative relationships with suppliers are hardly possible without the human touch. As a result, trust becomes stronger and sensitivity is increased, resulting in more reliability for both parties.

The human touch: a real-life story by a purchasing professional

I would like to tell you how I as a young buyer, actually became aware of what the human touch is and how it works:

I was a young, dynamic purchaser who had not heard of the human touch before or anything like it and I wanted to negotiate the best conditions. A tough negotiation with a supplier was on the agenda. My presentation for the negotiations with the managing director from the metal industry was first-class in terms of facts, figures, and data. However, as soon as I entered the meeting room, I sensed that the atmosphere was very tense. The managing director sitting across from me had beads of sweat on his forehead and his face was an unhealthy grayish color. It was clear to me that today was going to be different from usual and that the negotiation was not going to be as usual. I asked my negotiating partner if everything was okay and he replied with a deep sigh: “Ms. Götsch, honestly, if I don’t get your order today, I’ll have to lay off 200 employees this evening.” At that moment, a great responsibility shifted over to me and the subject of empathy or the human touch suddenly became clear and important.

Reactions and time for change

The reactions I received from some of my various superiors almost left me in shock. One executive from Germany almost dared to put me down, saying that the negotiator had played with me and that I shouldn’t let him pull me over the table. And that we’re not doing anything for the time being.

Another supervisor, a commodity group manager from Spain whom I spoke with, had understood the human touch and wanted to find a solution for the negotiating partner along with me. Even though it turned out a bit different than originally planned, everyone involved was able to feel good about it in the end.

I think it is extremely important that purchasing fulfills its responsibility — also towards its suppliers. Especially in today’s times of crisis, it plays a central role in the success of purchasing. A colleague of mine summed it up well by saying that we are now operating in a seller’s market and that many buyers are now being paid back for what they failed to do or overdid in recent years.

Five signs that your negotiation partner doesn’t care about you

In negotiations, there are five signs that the negotiating partner basically doesn’t really care about you, so there is no human touch involved:

  1. They only talk about saving money, the person is simply ignored.
  2. The simplest forms of appreciation are simply missing. It never occurs to them to say “thank you” for a job well done, a project completed, or overtime worked. They simply don’t give credit to the supplier at all.
  3. There is no such thing as trust in the relationship. Instead, they take the approach that the best solutions do not come from the negotiating partner and that they cannot be trusted.
  4. Communication is poor or there is a lack of it. In some cases, this leads to transgressions and to insults in the worst-case scenario. The tone is harsh and demotivating.
  5. Any appreciation is only pretended. We all quickly notice when appreciation extended to us is genuine and comes from the heart, or if it is just superficial or even ironic.

When as a buyer, you sense one of these five aspects or any combination of them in a negotiation, then immediately remember the human touch and counter it. It pays off when the negotiating partners are at the same level and approach each other with respect and appreciation.

During a crisis, should you work in partnership to manage it or use the steamroller?

Obviously, you’re not going to get far with the steamroller in this case, right? Now more than ever, it is obvious that purchasing should adopt a far-sighted, partnership approach rather than a forceful or tough one. After all, this is the only way we can manage the various crises we are facing. The human touch in purchasing applies to business partners, customers, suppliers as well as everyone in terms of self-management.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few questions to consider:

  • Do you see your business partner as a solution provider?
  • Do you have an honest interest in people and know what’s going on behind the scenes?
  • Do you ever thank your employees, colleagues, and suppliers for their efforts?
  • Do you also like to give yourself a pat on the back for completed projects or accumulated overtime?
  • As a purchasing manager, do you trust your employees to find the best solutions?

What role does the human touch already play in your purchasing activities? I’m interested in learning about your experiences and look forward to an exchange with you: if you like, on LinkedIn or in a personal meeting.

For more on this and other issues for sustainable purchasing strategies, listen to my podcast.