Procurement Jargon: Helping or Hurting the Profession?


Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody outside of procurement, wants to hear about your RFIs, your RFPs, RFQs, or any of the RFXes for that matter. With procurement struggling to get its message heard in many organisations, it’s high time that we addressed some of the “procurement jargon” that makes our stakeholders’ eyes glaze over.

Every business function has its own language and unique vocabulary that helps its practitioners communicate more efficiently, and procurement is no exception. Whether we’re talking about SRM, RFPs, or maverick spend, procurement jargon is necessary – but only when procurement professionals are talking to each other about process within the function.

When communicating with people outside of the profession such as a business stakeholder, a supplier or even someone at a barbecue who has asked what you do for a living, using jargon will only serve to confuse the issue. This has the effect of muddying understanding about what procurement does, the value it can bring, and how it is relevant to the things your wider organisation is trying to achieve. You will get a much better response from others by focusing on positive outcomes and value-additions in language that resonates with your audience.

When speaking to non-procurement professionals:

  • Focus on outcomes rather than procurement process. For example, instead of telling someone in the marketing function that you intend to launch a leading-edge RFP process to optimise their supplier base, tell them instead that procurement can make it easier for them to find the help they need to better connect with their customer base.
  • Adjust your language to suit your audienceIt isn’t necessary to learn the internal jargon of every function you deal with, although knowing a bit of accounting jargon is always helpful. But it is necessary to take the time to understand the goals and priorities of your stakeholders. Someone working in corporate social responsibility, for example, will be much more responsive if you talk to them about sustainability and social initiatives rather than cost savings.
  • Adopt the language of the wider business. While your business may have a dozen or more different professional “languages” scattered through the building, there is also likely to be one, unifying language that can act as the lingua franca everyone will understand. If you’re unsure of what this is, review your organisation’s enterprise-level targets and goals and begin adjusting your language to reflect these. Remember, in the end your job is to help achieve organisational success, not procurement metrics.

Three procurement terms to avoid: 

  • Cost savings: Even though the idea of a team focused entirely on cutting costs would be attractive to any CFO, procurement’s overuse of this term has become problematic. Today, many CPOs are struggling to articulate the wider value procurement can bring to an organisation, whether it’s through social procurement initiatives, or increased innovation through stronger supplier relationships. Speaking exclusively or predominantly about cost savings grossly simplifies and undervalues procurement’s contribution to the organisation.
  • Mavericks and rogues: Instead of using negative labels to shame the people who don’t follow company spend policies, think of them as an opportunity to understand why your policies are not working. Changing the habits of end-users through top-down processes and policies may work for most of the organisation, but there will always be a small percentage who will only change their habits once you’ve engaged directly with them to explain the benefits (for them!) of working with procurement. Taking on the role of the “procurement police” and treating mavericks like criminals will not help your efforts to bring them on board.
  • Negotiation: Procurement professionals may revel in the idea of an upcoming negotiation and enjoy the challenge it brings, but for stakeholders and suppliers, the word negotiation can carry negative connotations. For stakeholders, it may sound like a daunting process, while suppliers may feel that a negotiation will inevitably lead to a loss of margin. Instead, use language that highlights the positive outcomes of a negotiation, such as “seeking a mutually beneficial outcome” or “win-win” for both parties.

Finally, think about where you are using procurement jargon. Again, it’s acceptable in conversations and documents that are intended for procurement use only, and you’ll get a chance to air your favourite jargon when you attend procurement conferences. But whenever you communicate with non-procurement professionals, such as in conversations at the office, emails to the wider business, reports for the executive team, or feedback to suppliers, take the time to review your language choices.

Professional networking website Procurious asked six CPOs to name the one procurement term they wished they could ban forever in the following video.   Did they miss anything?  Comment below your list of pet-peeve procurement terms.

This article was published on the UNA blog. 

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