One flew over a cuckoo’s nest
Wake up! It’s Medication Time!
Before you even say it. Or think about it. NO. I am not saying the Commercial team is crazy. Quite the opposite in fact! They are my favorite business partners – sharp, savvy and charming. But they are tough too, and rightfully so as they have a very important job – drive the company’s growth. After a decade dedicated in supporting them, it’s why I consider them my favorite business partners. But back to the one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
Then what’s this all about? Well, in short, it’s about a journey that I’ve had in supporting Commercial Organizations. But it’s all in hopes that it can help at least one Category Manager who is about to support the Commercial function for the first time. By sharing a few lessons that I have learned, it can help someone else can skip the shock therapy, lobotomization and mercy death at the end.
Let’s start at the beginning when I was in Finance (FP&A). I had learned the basics of business units or brands. I knew where and what expenses they had, and I worked with executives to make budget decisions. But the majority of time was spent fixing things after the fact. And there is no influencing the numbers, not unless you are the CEO. That’s why sourcing is different.
You have to learn to influence the Marketing function prior to making a final decision.
So here are three of my favorite things – Not on Oprah’s list. And despite that fact the things that have helped make a difference in my dealings with Commercial teams. They may seem simple, but they can have a huge impact. And hopefully, they can help you navigate around the Loony Bin with me and some of our other colleagues.
Always show up to meetings – in PERSON!
Does it seem basic? Well it is, but don’t be shocked when it works. The fact remains in 2018 we have too much technology. Most people would rather dial into a Webex/Skype meeting then show up in person. I recently hosted a supplier day and half the attendees didn’t walk over to meet the people who had flew in from Europe or across the US to present to them. And this was was maybe 30-45 second walk from their building.
Was there a firepit and dragon between the buildings I was unaware of?
Of course not, but it sure is easier to multitask and attend with the presenters not being able to notice your, well lack of attention. Show you’re paying attention and show up. What about having to call and talk to someone – the same principle applies. But instead, we end the call to voicemail and reply with an email (unless we are desperate, am I right?). It’s just too easy to use technology.
Since Marketing is creating their strategies for them to execute, they know it works too. It’s a lot harder to make a sale over the phone or email. The goal is always to speak to staff, in person. But let’s put aside the technology and ask the question again – why?
The answer is simple. People have a lot harder time saying no when you are face to face. Doctors, nurses or anyone else in the field that are being “sold to” are no different. It’s just too easy to delete an email or hang up the phone. It’s like locking a door in the mental ward. You can shut someone out easily. But when the doors open, you may not be as tough as you think you are when you must look people in the eye. Especially those who may try to choke you to death.
So, use this to your advantage. Schedule meetings with your business partners and show and talk with them. Don’t dial in, don’t figure things out through email. See them in person and make them be sure they want to say no to you when it comes to strategic decisions.
Or in my case, when they say “thanks, but no thanks and why don’t you go talk to my colleagues instead – here’s their office.” Despite their reluctance to work with me, I found new business partners who needed my help – so I chalked it up to a win.
Don’t be a bull in a china shop
Do you remember when McMurphy tried to get people to vote to change the schedule to watch the World Series? He got Chief to throw up the final swing vote to make it 10-8. But it was too late. He protested to Nurse Ratched, she reminded him that the vote was 9-9 when the meeting had ended. What did he do? He yelled and screamed and demanded the nurse turn on the TV – RIGHT NOW! Did it work? Of course not.
In any type of organization, demanding something from the person in power typically doesn’t work. And I haven’t met someone yet who likes being told what to do at work or to be made to feel like they are six years old.
But unfortunately, it was easy for me at in my first position at Amgen just to not approve a PO and say no – that’s not how the process worked, the meeting was over and you’re too late. I have the power! He-man jokes aside, it sure didn’t help me gain their support for future work. And it especially didn’t persuade them to help support my Category Plan. It only made things worse, and I was the one who ended up getting yelled at and screamed at.
But things changed when I left Amgen. During my tenure at Gilead and now at BioMarin, business partners aren’t forced to work with you, and you have zero power. Which makes not trying to bully someone even that more important. So, what’s a girl to do if she can’t be She Ra the princess of power?
She can learn patience and influence
- Take on ANY project. If someone asks for help or support do it. Prove yourself and let your work speak for itself.
- Give Kudos. Once you have a few good case studies of working with business partners, make sure to write them down and share them. Who could get mad if you shared them saving 1M+ with their boss?
- Let others take credit. On top of sharing it with their boss, give them the credit. Because unfortunately, it’s not about you. It could be. But it’s not. Remind them how great they are going to look and remind your own boss how much money you’re saving the company.
- Make suggestions. Don’t force your position/opinion. Most people are open to suggestions. Think about the difference in saying “You Could” vs. “You Should.”
- Pre-sell your ideas. No one likes to be caught off guard during a meeting. At Amgen, we learned to have pre-meetings to the pre-meetings to the meeting. Giving their input as a part of the process instead of just being a final decision maker, was key.
A Little Change Never Hurt Anyone
Said the man who was ultimately lobotomized and killed. He didn’t realize how tough it could be for those in a Mental Ward. It’s why most patients who were self-committed could walk out any anytime but chose not to.
It’s the hardest part of our job – being a “change agent.” As a Sourcing/Category Manager you may become so used to implementing constant change, you will forget how hard it can be. So when you are trying to get the Commercial team to look at new suppliers, existing ones for different types of work or even think about leave agency/team they’ve worked with for the past 5-10 years – the change seems impossible. But it’s been done. How do you say? Well quit jumping ahead and I’ll get there!
My first suggestion is to realize that no one wants to be sold to, but that we all love to buy – even the Sales team! (Can you say, Jimmy Choo, Prada or Manolo Blahnik? Well neither can my husband but that doesn’t stop me from buying shoes!). So try to provide a range of choices with one of them being “do nothing.” It makes justifying the “do nothing” choice a lot harder. And the change doesn’t seem as bad when you can see how much more money you could have to spend on other tactics for the year.
But what happens if you run into a business partner who thinks they know best and outright refuses to change? They tell you they’ve been in business longer than you’ve been around. Well take it in stride and keep going. One of the best stories I have is when an Executive Director told me we should just award the business to an agency (losing all our leverage) since that’s how he had always done it.
I still tried my hardest to explain why this wasn’t the best approach. It didn’t matter – he obviously knew better than I did. So I kept my mouth shut and moved the project forward. Now imagine his surprise when they came back and the pricing was well over 1M+ more expensive (blended hourly rate was over 15/hr. higher) than the other brands they supported at the company, since they “knew” they had the business. They had taken advantage of the situation. *Insert shocked face here*
So where does the journey end? Will you eventually become friends with the Commercial team and make an impact on them? Maybe they will invite you to go team building on a boat after escaping from the ward for a day! Well, let’s hope too. Inclusion to meetings or events is a sign of partnership and trust. And most importantly, a sign you’ve done something right!