Professional Development Pulse Blog When people typically think of the public procurement profession, they usually think of a single role– someone who actually does the purchasing of goods and services as a buyer. Often, that single title, buyer, is thought of as an interchangeable role with other, similarly sounding roles: procurement officer, purchasing agent, etc. However, it is important to note that although the titles are often used interchangeably, there are many noticeable differences between the actual functions of those roles.
For National Procurement Month, let’s look at the similarities and differences between the role of a buyer vs. the role of a public procurement professional. For those currently in a buyer role, or if you have staff that are ready to elevate their skillset, understanding the similarities and differences between the roles can help prepare the novice to take their careers to the next level.
So, what are the similarities between the two roles? They have many of the same duties; both are responsible for the purchasing of goods and services for their respective agencies. They both:
Perform market research to find, evaluate, and select the goods and services to purchase
Negotiate pricing with the suppliers and issue solicitations for those goods and services
Perform data analysis, as they are equally responsible for ensuring their respective agencies’ funds are prudently spent
Provide vital customer service; each position comes with its own set of internal and external customers to which they answer
Maintain inventory levels of the commodities they have purchased to ensure continuity for their respective agencies’ operations
Monitor supplier performance for the goods and services they provide
Sustain a working rapport with their supplier communities
The buyer and procurement professional are both essential in their respective agencies, as they obtain the goods and services required for the operation of public entities.
With all those similarities, it’s easy to see how the two roles can be mistaken for being interchangeable. However, within those similarities, there are very different methods that each role will employ to achieve their respective objectives. Moreover, many requirements are unique to the procurement professional.
The first and main difference of note is the terminology around the roles. Traditionally, the term buyer was used to describe a role that was primarily clerical in its nature. The focus was on efficiency and obtaining the lowest cost, likely because most procedures and analyses were performed manually. The usage of the term procurement to describe a buying role gained popularity in the late 20th century with the information technology boom after the majority of public agencies began integrating computerized processes into their workflows. With the integration of new technology, the role became more complex and dynamic.
Additionally, procurement professionals are not just negotiating pricing for the goods and services. They are also collaborating with their agency’s Risk Management and Legal departments to negotiate with the suppliers for the terms and conditions that will be included in the contracts that result from the agency’s solicitations.
Two of the most noticeable differences in the roles are the value of the purchases and the nature of supplier relationships. The buyer is typically working with a small pool of suppliers that are already known and vetted by the agency, and those purchases rarely cross the agency’s high dollar value threshold. Thus, those purchases (and the suppliers they have purchased from) have a lower risk impact on the organization. Buyers generally do very little Supplier Relationship Management (SRM). For the procurement professional, SRM is critical because of the potential value of the purchases and the accompanying high-risk impact. Suppose an agency is entering into a contract for a new ERP system worth millions of dollars. In that case, it is crucial that the procurement professional has completed their due diligence throughout that procurement process to ensure that both the end product and the supplier of that product have been thoroughly evaluated for credentials, capabilities, and financial solvency.
The end result of the procurement process for a buyer is a purchase order. But for the procurement professional, the issue of a purchase order is just the beginning of the contract management process, which includes:
Monitoring contract compliance,
Managing supplier performance,
Handling any disputes that may arise, and
Most procurement offices have policies and procedures that dictate that the procurement professional manage their solicitations and contracts from start to finish, which gives the role more of a project management angle.
Level Up, Step Up, and Transform
So, are you a buyer, or are you a procurement professional? For anyone who would like to transition into a procurement professional role, here are a few practical ideas that can help you reach that goal:
Talk to your manager about your current role, and ask what would be required to take the position to the next level. Make your interest known.
Ask to attend organizational planning meetings where your agency’s high-level objectives and future projects will be discussed. This can give you some insight into what the future needs of your procurement department will be, which can help you better understand the responsibilities of the higher-level procurement position.
Join (or get involved in) professional organizations for public procurement, like NASPO. There are many ways to be actively involved for all levels of time commitment.
Focus on your professional development. NASPO’s Procurement U is a great resource. It provides many free or low-cost professional development opportunities, training, resources, publications, and more that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of public procurement officials and staff.
Consider certification with UPPCC. The CPPB and CPPO certifications are globally recognized certifications for the field and are widely recognized as the premier, independent credentials in public procurement. Certification is an excellent way to display your expertise. NASPO’s CPPB and CPPO self-study tools are now available (for FREE) to any public procurement professional.
Happy National Procurement Month!