What the heck is procurement? Read 19 experts spell it out for you

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Officer

Key take: see experts explain procurement in less than a minute!

“Procurement is like shopping… for big stuff, for big companies.”

That’s literally how Tania Seary from Procurious put it, as we asked the most creative procurement experts we know to explain procurement as they would to an 11-year old.

We’ve all been in that awkward situation at a family gathering or party where conversation turns to careers and someone asked “what the heck is procurement?” 🤷

If there was ever a business function in need of branding it’s procurement. It’s impact is seen everywhere, but it’s not so simple to describe as “sales” or “accounting.”

How is it that one of the most important and exciting functions in business is so hard to describe to outsiders?

Luckily we have experts who have both the experience and creativity to answer the question. Here we’ve gathered 15 explanations you can explore and try yourself divided into three categories: simplicity, context and the big picture.

1. Make it simple

Your first option is to make it simple. Remove all the buzzwords and explain procurement in terms everyone can understand.

One of the simplest explanations is Art of Procurement‘s Philip Ideson who said “We help companies buy the things they need to operate.”

Sara Evans from the Respectory has another fantastically simple answer “spending the company’s money on stuff they need, in a way that doesn’t cause more problems.”

Keeping with the concise message, David Atkinson from Four Pillars describes procurement as “professional shopping, for other people, using their money.”

Another really simple but effective explanation is Mr. Procurement Mojo Sigi Osagie‘s “procurement is buying for things an organisation needs to operate — somewhat like shopping for the things a family needs to live, but the family here is a ‘work family.'” 

If you liked Tania Seary’s practical explanation, Lauri Palokangas from Basware added “When you buy stuff for yourself, you find a suitable shop, find the right product, haggle about the price to feel good about your purchase. Procurement is like that, just that people do it for living.”


2. Use Familiar Metaphors

Another great way to explain procurement is to give context through metaphors or other familiar forms of buying.

Dustin Cochran from Omnia Partners likens procurement to buying a car. “The last time we bought a car, we had to make sure we liked the style of the car, it was safe, it was reliable and that we got the best price for it. That’s what I do, but I do that for everything my company buys!”

Matthew York from Ardent Partners and CPO Rising suggest a comparison to shopping on Amazon. “You find what you want, see who else sells it, what they charge for it, including the shipping options. You make up your mind on the seller, add the item to your cart and check out. When you get it, you give the seller a good review if you like it.”

Ms. Category Management Dana Small has a perfect reference to bargain hunting. “It’s like you try to buy a pair of Jimmy Choos at a TJ Maxx price – you want the quality – but don’t want to pay full price!”

Kelly Barner from Buyers Meeting Point reflects on supermarkets. “You know those plastic bags at the supermarket that the apples go in? Where do you think those come from?” [Insert blank stare here.] Procurement helps companies do a good job buying things and spending money so they can make money.

The Procurement Doctor Karthik Rama has a great way to describe procurement to kids.. with toys. “Procurement is you wanting the remote Range Rover Toy Car(Requester), Mom saying yes she is fine spending the money ( Budget Approver). Dad(Procurement) checks for options and features that you want, with the price that mom is ok with. In Procurement you are paid to spend money wisely.

Purchasing Coach Alison Smith offered not one but two great metaphors:

For family – “it’s like gardening with a garden full of suppliers. Need to understand what we want the plants/ suppliers to do, what conditions they grow in, and then to water, feed, prune and weed them.”

With younger audiences you can’t go wrong with llama references – “How to ensure your llama flourishes by ensuring what we buy for them doesn’t break the bank but meets their needs and takes into account innovative new ideas to keep it happy.”

3. Give the big picture

You can be brief but comprehensive. Some of experts can show the big picture

Andrew Bartolini from Ardent Partners notes “Procurement is basically deciding what you need, finding who has it, what it costs, and where it’s at; comparing options to ensure you get the best deal; agreeing to buy and pay for it; ensuring you receive it and it works; planning ahead in case something goes wrong.”

Clotilde Hannetel from Achaz Consulting compares procurement to preparing for a holiday together with friends. You first ask “folks, what do you want to do and what’s our budget?” Then, you ask for specific requests like special diet, late departure. Before you commit you check ratings and recommendations. Finally, you ensure everything goes well and everyone is happy.

The way Gerard Chick puts it “It’s the key to successful business. Ensuring supply; forecasting problematic supply chain issues and informing the organisation regarding those issues; delivering what is needed,where it’s needed when it’s needed; this equates to value in both financial and service terms.”

Dave Food from Prophetic Technology  reminds us that  “wins need to be driven wide not focused local, procurement wins need to be for the business and for the supply chain, ideally for the customer, but they cannot just be a better price per unit.”

Jon W. Hansen of Procurement Insights has a great way to put it. “Look at that smartphone in your hand; procurement was involved. See that car that just went buy; that’s right, procurement. ‘Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.’ Procurement is the lever.”

Finally, procurement digitalist Bertrand Maltaverne places focus on stakeholder management. Noting that procurement is a balance of listening to needs and wants, making sense of demands and thinking about what’s good for the business for the long term.

Get creative!

In this round-up we’ve seen creative ways to express procurement from the simple, to metaphors or showing the big picture.

While it’s always good to learn from the professionals, you don’t need to be a expert to come up your own way to explain procurement.

Get creative, have fun, and build a great brand for procurement!

All articles

Related articles

Tuomas Kähärä

Head of Solutions, Source to Screen


SavingsBridge – Our Solution to Connect Procurement and Finance

We recently introduced our new book Procurement Loves Finance, which is about building and nurturing the relationship between procurement and finance. One…

Matti Sillanpää

Product Manager; Co-Founder


Creating Business Value from Procurement

Nowadays it is a more or less universally recognized fact that having well performing procurement operations can have a significant impact on…

Never miss news from Sievo