Collect requests, collaborate with stakeholders, and manage approvals
Get to market faster with access to thousands of sample projects
Create bids, invite vendors, and get results quickly
Engage internal collaborators to score RFx projects
Stay on top of milestones and vendor performance
Access award-winning coaching and support
Collaboration | 51 minutes
Joanna Hunt says it best: procurement is sexy. Especially when your procurement priorities are in order.
Joanna is a Retail Buyer & Customer Experience Professional at Central Washington University. In the latest episode of Inside Public Procurement, she breaks down the fun side of procurement and shares her wisdom with the next generation of procurement specialists.
What we talked about:
Check out these resources we mentioned during the podcast:
You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to Inside Public Procurement on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts.
Joanna Hunt | Central Washington University
You’re listening to Inside Public Procurement by Bonfire, a show celebrating the unique stories and heroic efforts of those on the front lines of public procurement. Each episode, we bring you the latest trends, tips, and real stories from procurement trailblazers like you, who work tirelessly to bring positive impact to the agencies and communities you serve. Together, let’s elevate the field of public procurement to new heights. Now, pull up a chair and let’s gather around the Bonfire. Our show is about to begin.
Hello, and welcome to the Inside Public Procurement Podcast. My name is Tuong La, and I am the client support agent over at Bonfire, an eProcurement solution used by over 450 public agencies in North America. I am joined today, and I’m very excited to have Joanna Hunt here today, who is a buyer for the Wildcat Shop at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. Two hours east of Seattle, in fact. She has over 10 years of experience in dynamic visual merchandising, product procurement and event facilitation. Her specializations are in product categories, such as gifts, supplies, licensed gear, course materials, and others, so much more. Joanna, welcome to the show.
Oh thank you so much for having me. I appreciate being here.
I am excited to have you here, of course, but you know what? Before we get started in just talking about the lovely thing about procurement and all of those things, I am curious, you talked, before we even hit record, you talking about getting up early for cats, pit bulls, furry life, I guess. What’s that like having so many pets to take care of?
I love it. You come home and you see those two little pities with their smiles. They love you so much. And then you see their cats and the just utter disdain in their faces when you walk in the door again. I love my furry friends. They’re my children. It’s a nice responsibility and you know that they love you, except for the cats.
Cats are always on their own agenda anyways.
Yeah. They’re the roommates you just [crosstalk 00:02:19].
Joanna, if there is another furry friend you want to add to your repertoire, fictional or not, let’s hear it.
I would have a big cat, any big cat, any large cat. I would love to.
Really? We’re talking about like any dangerous cat out there, cheetah, liger.
Yes, bigger the better.
What else is … Lion. All of those cats.
Yes, little tiger cub, I would love it. Totally unethical.
Yeah, you’re not afraid.
I want one so bad.
I feel like you can tame them.
Or I’ll just deal with it. I don’t have a healthy fear of animals, which is not a good thing, but it’s fun.
Yeah, that’s fine. We all love animals here.
Any zoo is a petting zoo if you’re confident.
All right, Joanna. Well, you know what? We are here to talk about some exciting procurement stuff. Before we hit record today, before the show, we started talking about some really interesting topics that I really wanted to dive deeper into because you have a really unique perspective that I’m just … And you’re very excited about procurement too. We talked about this. Procurement is sexy if you want it to be sexy.
It is. There are a lot of aspects of procurement that people don’t know about. I want to dive deep into that, so the first thing is supply chain management and how that relates to the generational gap. We talked about this and before too. How would you define the idea of the generational gap and how that relates to supply chain management?
Well, I think especially when you’re coming into an organization that has established staff, you’re coming in, you’re the newb, you’re the young, hot buyer, and everyone in your organization has been there for 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 years in some universities. There’s a lot of relationships that are already established. It can be really overwhelming to try to innovate or to try to do anything new because you don’t know the history of that organization. When you look at supply chains specifically, younger buyers are shoppers, right?
Younger buyers have been shopping since they were two. They have iPhones. They’ve been looking at carts and abandoning carts and finding places to get things the whole time. The new generation of buyer has been revolutionized by online sourcing, but that’s not procurement. It’s still a very different situation. While they’re very confident as shoppers, the concept of procurement and the larger buys is very scary. Sometimes it leads the young buyer and supply chain to freeze up and not know where they are, but they’re not entirely sure where to go or what their cycles are or how the individual organization reads.
Because procurement is the breadth of your organization. It is the blood that comes in and out, and it moves all of these things around. I think a lot younger buyers are in a frame of mind of shopping. Oh, I know where to get that. I’ll find it on Amazon. That’s not sourcing. That’s research, but it’s good research. It is a huge database. When it comes specifically in terms of supply chain, there’s this big gap in terms of, how do I navigate my shopping style to articulate itself into a procurement strategy? And how does that look?
It’s hard because when you’re a young procurement specialist in an established organization, you’re going to have those things that come down that you’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, well, we’ve always done it this way. Well, millennials, gen Zers, the young generation, that is a personal challenge to not do it that way. When I entered in this organization, our textbook buyer had been here for 25 years at that point, and he retired when he left at 35 years. By retired, I mean he just left work at 8:30 and never came back.
It’s not that procurement is that bad. It was a really rough point of sale system turnover. Again, those are all the things that affect procurement, and you just don’t know until psychologically you can’t handle it anymore. But when you’re in an industry that have buyers and have people who’ve been in here for 30, 35 years, it’s really hard to innovate, and that’s really what the new generation of procurement specialists wants to do. We want to get it faster. We want to get it at a better value. We want to create different relationships with newer vendors.
It’s hard to do that when you’re brand new and you don’t know what questions to ask. I think that’s one of the biggest gaps, is that we’re afraid to ask the question, ask the questions. What are the questions you need to ask to build the confidence to get you there to take the next steps to innovation?
You’re saying that the younger generation might have the spunk, if you will, the energy, and that buying mindset of like, I know how to do this, but maybe they don’t actually know the historical knowledge of the organization and how to do procurement right. But if the older generation and the younger generation work together, they might be able to find a more streamlined solution. Because I assume, even when you get into this older generation of procurement, you are stuck in your ways and all this other stuff.
Maybe you’re not willing to accept this new age of even digital technology, online platforms, the procurement and all this stuff. Right?
But the younger generation has that knowledge, but maybe they don’t know how to execute on it.
Yes. Or how to even begin the conversation about implementation. I have worked with procurement specialists who their note cycle are post-it notes on a calendar. I’m like, wow, so what happens when a big gust of wind comes up? What’s going to happen to your calendar? Whereas we’re app savvy. We pull up our phone, add it to the calendar, it’s done, it’s attached to four different apps. So, it’s much easier for the younger generation to be able to seamlessly integrate into procurement systems.
When you have a procurement database that is linking all of this information together, helping you schedule your ins and outs, helping you really tabulate the data of what needs to come in, what doesn’t need to show up on Thursday, but what absolutely must show up on Thursday. When you have a system in place that can give you all of those details, the younger generation buyer is extremely excited to test that out. Yes, show me all of the tips and tricks that this system can give me.
The older buyers are hesitant because it’s not that they don’t trust technology, it’s just that we know, in the middle of everything, your system breaks down, your whole business stops working. For us, when our point of sales system goes down, there’s really no point for us to be here. We’re just staying in here with stuff in our hands, but the older generation buyer is so used to doing things by hand. They’re so used to just doing a phone call.
Your younger generation procurement specialists, they’re not going to cold call. They’re not. It’s not going to happen unless they feel incredibly comfortable in their own skin at that point. But these systems that are so easy to integrate into any … Any system you’re using, whether you have to integrate with POS like Bonfire, when you have these systems that have all of this data set up that’s super easy to use, and helps you really maximize your efficiency, it helps the younger buyer pull the organization in.
You almost have to have the younger buyer be like, “Yeah, I know how to set up your VCR, but guess what? I can show you [crosstalk 00:10:06].”
I love that.
It’s almost the same concept. I absolutely see what you’re doing. Here’s how I can maximize your efficiency, and we all know that when you maximize efficiency, what do you do? You save money every time. You can maximize the time that you’re using. Systems like that are excellent, but the younger buyers have to feel confident enough to suggest it to organizations that don’t have it out there, and there’s so many platforms available to help streamline buying [crosstalk 00:10:33].
Are you thinking that the younger generation is, and this is obviously broad strokes because everybody … Or yeah, but do you think there is like a fear to ask those questions in the younger generation?
I think it’s been beaten into them not to ask those questions. I think that’s sometimes where impostor syndrome comes from, is you’re trained not to ask any questions and then you get hired for a job, and you say, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I shouldn’t ask any questions.” No, ask the question. Luckily, like I said, in our industry, we’re a very close knit industry. We know each other, so I can call up the University of Michigan, and I can call up on their buyers and be like, “Hey, where do I find this thing? I’m looking for a certain thing in particular.”
But the younger generation, they don’t have that network. They don’t maybe have the mentors in place to ask those questions. What is, I think what hampers their development is because they’re so afraid to take a risk because they don’t know what the fallout will be, that they just do everything really slow or really tentatively instead of putting themselves out there. I personally ask, what does failure look like? What does failure in procurement look like as a new buyer?
Does failure mean a shipment arrived a day late? It could be, if it’s raw goods and you ordered it from the wrong source and now I’ve had to close my manufacturing plant for three weeks because we don’t have what we need. You tripped on that one, right? That’s a failure. Accidentally typing the address wrong somewhere in a procurement request is not a failure, but how do you feel comfortable, now that you have this position, asking your boss that question, what does failure in this position look like? What does success look like? They may not be able to actually tell you what success looks like for procurement, because they may not know.
Things just have always arrived when they’re supposed to arrive. The wheel, as we said, it’s the Game of Thrones, the wheel keeps turning. As long as the wheel keeps turning, they don’t really care. But when the wheel stops is when they care. Sometimes it’s good to ask, what does failure look like? What does that look like for this organization? I think, especially when we talk about younger buyers or really any younger employee coming into an organization that has history, you’ve got all these buyers with history, it’s not really gossip, but you need to listen to the relationships around you.
I’ve told students that I’ve worked with, I’ve told people I work with learn, who can affect your effectiveness. So, you may be doing everything right. You’ve got your requisitions in order, you’re checking all your stuff, you have this new thing that is sustainably sourced, and you’re really excited about it, and it’s all messed up now because Stan in receiving does not like Patty in AP, so he didn’t get your proper paperwork to her, so now the invoices late, and somehow it’s come back to you, but you didn’t know that relationship, right?
Sometimes you have to listen to what’s being said, taking it with a grain of salt, and then exploring those relationships around you, those departments around you to see how they interact with you and how they affect how your progress breeds. Everything should be taking a big breath and everything should be moving as one, but we know that. Not everybody gets along. Therefore, some departments don’t work very well. But procurement is one of those things that goes all the way around. What are those other people, those other departments that’ll go all the way around you, and how can you maximize the effectiveness knowing that those relationships are already established?
Really, it really comes down to … I mean, I guess this goes for any job, really. You just have to, not necessarily get along on a personal relationship with people, but you have to get along on a professional way so that you can … At the end of the day, you’re all doing the same type of job, right? If one person drops the ball on it a little bit, or if you’re afraid to collaborate with somebody else and you’re all about yourself and you’re all like, you know what? I’m just going to do my thing, do my 9:00 to 5:00, go home for the day. Then you might have just either made extra work for yourself or not have gotten the best results because you were too hesitant to reach out for help.
Absolutely. It’s really hard because you can’t dump all of your success on the expectations of others, right? We can only hold ourselves accountable. We can only have expectations for ourselves, but when we know what our work does affects others and how we can help that effectiveness, it builds some of those relationships that may have fallen historically. And you may be the flesh and blood that breeds new life into this organization, and sometimes it’s a lot to put on a new procurement specialist, because you’re just trying to figure out how an RFP works at this moment.
You didn’t know you were going to be doing all of the emotional intelligence for your entire team, but sometimes that’s what it takes to begin to take the baby steps to build. The beauty of procurement is that it’s a long-term industry. Once you get the hang of procurement, I have not met a single industry that doesn’t have a need for procurement specialists in one fashion or another. Like you and I said, it’s sexier than people lead it to believe. It’s a lot of fun. I mean, nobody thought making sure four pallets of toilet paper arrived on time in terms of COVID.
Sure. Yeah, absolutely.
Guy unloading toilet paper, you’re just like, yes, I love you. But that’s the thing, it’s the logistics and it’s the being efficient, and it’s being thoughtful, and how all of this works together in a living breathing organization. I think when we, like you said, when we’re not thinking about ourselves and our one role, but how we are a part of a living entity, it changes the dynamics immensely.
Procurement’s fun. See everyone, it’s a fun time. Yeah. It’s good. There’s so much problem solving going on and working together. It’s great, and you get to meet so many people.
It is a lot of creative problem solving.
I want to go into more about procurement, specifically we talked about the gritty fundamentals. Now, you mentioned the word gritty in relation to university procurement specifically. I’d love to unpack that a little bit.
When I talk about gritty, for me, it’s knowing as much as you can about what can go wrong. I’m not a pessimist. I’m not saying I’m a pessimist, but there’s so much room for human error. There’s so much room for manufacturing delays, shipping delays, natural disasters, that for me, I need to know what can go wrong so that I can maximize what can go right, and that’s just how I role. But it comes back to asking the questions, knowing your words. When you place an order and don’t realize that there’s a four week lead time and you ordered it three weeks late, that’s problematic, but it’s the devil’s in the details. When I talk about gritty, I’m talking about knowing the basic fundamentals of, what words are you using?
Yeah, the terminology.
And are they interchangeable between the terminology between you and other portions? We say procurement, and I do a lot of procurement, but I do a lot of buying. And those are different. Procurement is long-term relationships between vendors and your organization that have been established. Procurement is creating value for your organization, not necessarily pricing. Procurement is making sure that the lifeblood continues to move so that manufacturing needs can be met so that shipping needs can be met, so that your customers are happy. But buying is trend analysis.
We’re looking at short-term items. We’re looking at sometimes vendor relations. If you have large thing like licensing. We do licensing, so we have a lot of licensed long-term vendors we’ve worked with for our Champion store. We work with Champion, for, I swear, 300 years. It’s knowing the difference between the terms and how the philosophy is different, the frame of minds are different. Like I said, the young generation are shoppers.
That’s excellent. I’m a buyer. I love shoppers. I can cater to you in an instant, but when we’re looking at procurement, it’s a different philosophy. It’s not necessarily based on the transaction. It’s based on the environment. It’s based on the relationship. It’s based on the long scope of what you’re doing, and new employees, again, like I said, broad strokes across the board, are so overwhelmed with everything that it’s hard to find what they absolutely must know. For me, gritty is the things you absolutely must know. What are the words you’re using?
What are the systems you’re using? Are you familiar with the system that you’re using? Do you have a procurement system that will help you streamline and help you learn? Streamlined procurement databases are exceptional at helping the first time procurement buyer know what they’re doing and see it in a format, because procurement is not linear. It seems linear because you’re going to a particular place, but there’s a web around it, which is your supply chain. How does your linear program evolve from these different webs that have been created? And what your scope is.
I think that’s hard across the board with anything. Again, it’s going back to, how do you work within these other relationships in an established organization? What’s the scope of your procurement? What’s the scope of what you’re doing? Are you only doing one thing? I’m a procurement specialist, but I only place two orders a quarter. Sweet deal [inaudible 00:20:49]. Awesome. Do your two quarters, get it. Or are you putting RFPs out every day and you have things scheduled coming in and out every day. Negotiations, requisitions.
Again, it seems linear, but you have all of these things, and if you don’t know what those words are, if you don’t know what that dialogue is or the whole scope of your position, it’s real easy to fail or feel like a failure. You may not be failing. Everything may be moving along just fine, but you feel like a failure, and so you can never kind of make it to the next step. So, ask the question.
That imposter syndrome that you were talking about earlier, right?
Imposter syndrome is only cured by practice. Practice makes perfect. Again, what does failure look like? What do I need to research historically to be successful? But also, what do I need to research to bring something new into this place? Where can I find this data? And what are the patterns? For me, Captain America Winter Soldier said it best, “The 21st century is a digital book. You just have to know how to read it.” And that is a fact. You just have to know how to read it. Where are the patterns and how do you see those patterns come up ahead of you?
Once you see the patterns, you can kind of slide yourself in and see where we’re going. But when we talk about the gritty, the gritty will only come if you ask the questions. You got to really see what’s important to your organization. What’s important, price or time? Do you want me to find the best value of something or do you just need it here in a particular time? Or like you said, if the fact that it is a socially conscious source, is that the most important that you want me to fill?
These can’t be attained if we’re not comfortable asking the questions. Sometimes you’ll find yourself with an organization that has never been asked.
Oh, I didn’t know there were better options. Yeah, dude, that’s why I’m here. That’s why you hired me, because I’m going to take you there, and the confidence to do it. I am Groot, So if I see a red button, I’ll press it. I’m very naturally curious. I want to know what success looks like. I want to know what failure looks like. I want to know what that button is that says don’t touch it because I am itching to find out what it does.
We’re naturally curious, so there’s nothing wrong with asking that. Hey, if I make mistakes, where would you like me to make them? Where can I make those practice mistakes? It’s okay if you’ve accidentally ordered a dozen more boxes of manila envelopes. It’s not okay when you have 10 pallets scheduled to arrive next week. Where can you make these mistakes? And how can you candidly ask for that without making it look like, look, I’m going to make mistakes, I just want to know where I can make them before I’m putting out dollar RFPs?
In that sense, like gritty fundamentals, you identify that it’s really important that the new generation of buyers, and I guess anybody really, is to really know the terminology of what procurement means within the organization and what everybody else is using outside of the organization as well. On a training perspective, I guess that would be very important for people who have been in the job for a long time to just identify, let’s say three to five …
I mean, it could be more, but let’s just say three to five, this is the important stuff you got to know, and from here, you can grow it. Because, I mean, as a young procurement professional myself, I also struggled with, oh my God, I didn’t even know what procurement was. Three years ago, I had no idea what it was, and then you’re slapped in it. And you’re like, there’s a lot of terminology going on, and it’s hard to navigate it without a helping hand to tell you, here are the few things you should know for now, and then later ask me the other stuff, if it comes across.
Absolutely. LinkedIn had sent me a, hey, you’d be perfect for this procurement position that deals with [crosstalk 00:25:01]. I said, would I? I don’t think so. I’ve been doing this a long time. I have no idea any of the words you just said to me, but that’s the thing is, and again, it’s that imposter syndrome. I’ve never done it. It’s okay. Where can you make the mistakes? And what do you absolutely need to know? Sometimes you can research procurement, but sometimes you can’t. I think what’s also good is to feel comfortable having a backup plan. I always have a backup plan because Newton’s laws real.
If it can go wrong, it probably will. Feeling comfortable in yourself to be a little bit skeptic, but not be pessimistic and have your backup plans and finding a mentor. Again, that’s across the board. In any position, it’s really hard to find mentors that you can feel candid enough to say, “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Could you give me some pointers?” The college bookstore industry is, I feel bad for everybody else, because we are incredibly unique in that way because we legally cannot compete with each other.
College bookstores cannot compete with each other, or we’d be selling books across the nation and it would just be a mess. But because of that, I have a network of peers that I can call and say, “I am absolutely struggling with this particular thing.” We have listservs that come up, and I just had one that said, hey, I have a class that needs sewing and mercantile kits. What is this? Hey girl, I happen to take these kits every quarter. Here’s my vendor list. Here’s my reps. We share vendors with each other. I mean, there’s only like a couple of vendors. But that’s the thing, is because we don’t compete.
There’s a network of around us to help connect and to help us connect with other vendors, to help us connect with other customers, to help us just connect in any sort of way, which for us is vital because the college bookstore industry, we believe is vital, but it’s, not everybody loves us, and we understand that, but without that network, without the mentorship that’s there with all of this historical data that also says, hey, here’s the historical data, God bless and take us into the future young kids, without that, there’d be so much struggle in what we do across the board in procurement and in buying. I feel really grateful to be part of an industry that shares as much as it does.
That actually brings us back to this next talking point of the unique perspective of what you go through not competing with other organizations. I think everything you’ve said so far totally applies to if you’re competing or if you’re not competing with somebody else, like of course mentorships, fantastic. Learn those gritty fundamentals of your org, all those things. But a lot of orgs out there do not get to work with each other in that sense. You get to share this knowledge. Yeah. Is there a room, I mean, I guess you’re on the other side of it, but is there room for people who are competing with each other to still collaborate in some sense?
I absolutely think so. It’s hard because I think that also comes down to the fundamentals of capitalism, which we are absolutely not going to go into today. But I think part of it is we want to … Right, that’s another podcast, that we want to compete so much because it shows that we’re better. But if we collaborate, we can actually share resources and better maximize what we’re doing. I think it would give every organization a chance to show in a unique way. I know, for some industries, they have industry publication.
I publish in our college store magazine, which is an industry publication for the National Association of College Stores. That in itself, it may be a magazine, but here it connects you to all of these buyers and it connects you to all of these store directors and it connects to all these vendors and trade shows. Sometimes that’s where you have to go. You got to go to a trade show and bump into somebody else that also doesn’t know what they’re doing. They’re like, hey, do you want to be best friends? Yes, I do.
How do you create those relationships? I don’t think the industries have to compete because no two customers are the same, no two buyers are the same, no two sources are the same. You may be buying paper products, but no two paper product vendors are the same. To be in a competitive-only mindset is not as disruptive to the industry as we think. A collaborative mindset between the industries is what will disrupt the industry and I think allow room for growth. It helps the college bookstore industry. We’re a large school. Well, we’re a small school, but we’re a large store, so we have more buying than some small stores. So, we leverage that. I can’t imagine a small mom and pop shop going to Walmart saying, hey, I’m struggling getting this in. Can you add a pallet to your order?
Walmart’s not going to do that. I will. Community college calls me up and is like, Joanna, we are struggling. I cannot meet my minimum order. I just need a pallet of five star. Girl, I’ll get you a pallet of five star. Let me just add that to my cart real quick. You know what? Give me your UPS number. I’ll freight it to you as soon as it arrives, right? That’s collaboration. Nobody’s egos have been damaged. Nobody lost anything. I leveraged our standing to help a different business. Again, we’re not competing. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some procurement specialist just think it’s so odd.
Just like, wait, you what? I’m like, yeah, of course I helped them. Because when we all succeed, we all succeed. That’s part of the game. We’re not trying to destroy each other or each other’s positions.
I love how positive that is. It’s definitely something different than a lot of what procurement’s out there because I think a lot of people are used to being like best price, done. That’s over. There’s no other argument to be had. That’s it, close the book. But yours is coming from a different … Yours is more relationship based, which I think is more longstanding.
Yes. Very much so. I think a lot of, depending on the procurement you’re in, a lot of it will be relationship-based. You’re working with vendors you’ve worked with for a long time. But if you’re starting out, if you’re a young buyer and you’re starting out with a new procurement vendor, you want to build that relationship. I am a high-maintenance buyer. I’ll tell you that. I will help people that at the jump. Just want to let you know I’m a little bit high maintenance so I do have high expectations, but because of that, when you can meet my expectations, you’re my vendor for that for life.
Now, you have just put yourself on the list for a vendor for the university. This university has been around, I don’t know, 500 years at this point, not really, like over a hundred years. But so you’ve got your foot in to a large store as a vendor long-term because we’ve built that relationship. That can be really hard for new procurement specialists because they don’t know what that looks like. They don’t even know what their own expectations are. They may be given very little expectations by their directives. Again, do you want me to save time or do you want me to save money or is the relationship itself what’s most important?
For us, the state gave us a directive, we want you specifically to support businesses that are run by women of color, businesses that are minority owned. We want you to specifically look for businesses that are like this. Not only are they wanting us to source the best they can, they want us to source socially conscious vendors. How do you search for that? Are they going to give you a list and be like, here you go? No, no, no, no, they’re just going to say do it, and you’re like, okay. So, you Google it.
Because I do a lot of training for students and I do a lot of supply chain training from, and I say, if you don’t know, Google it. At this point, this is 2021. Google already knows you’re going to ask the question. You just have to type it in. It’s got half of it filled out for you. Where do I find wholesalers owned by women of color? It’s going to pop up. Then you just got to keep digging. You just got to keep digging, and not be afraid to dig, not be afraid to email. I email all the time. Hello, I’m Joanna at the Wildcat Shop, and I saw your website and I love that you are a minority-owned candle company.
I would like to spend this much amount of money with you for this particular quarter, can you meet that need? If you are lucky, they’ll say yes. If you’re not lucky, they’ll say no, but that tells me that the business is doing great, so you go to the next business. You’re sourcing what the scope of their business is, maybe not necessarily the product. It’s hard because procurement doesn’t necessarily get to tell a story. You’re getting things for other people, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use procurement to be part of their story and how that works out as well.
Oh, I love that. Yeah. That’s a quote, put it on a shirt right there. That’s good. Joanna, you touched on so many things that we’re about to touch on a little bit, but before we move on from this collaboration thing, because you’ve talked already talked about collaborating with other universities, organizations, and even the vendors themselves. On a logistical standpoint, and we can, you don’t have to go super deep into it, but what does it look like? How do you actually collaborate with those other universities? Is it just through email, is it calling them? How do you make sure that knowledge is being shared?
I think, again, for us, we are very lucky because we actively collaborate. Collaboration is a focal point of what we do, and we have organizations. We have the National Association of College Stores, we have the Independent College Bookstore Association, we have regional associations, and these are all created specifically to educate, to build, to grow, to network. Let’s be honest, I think you can agree, not a single one of us this year last time thought that we wouldn’t be able to stand in an entirely too cold hotel room in a hallway drinking really crappy coffee from a cart standing next to people we only see a couple of times a year, right? We didn’t think we would miss that.
What I would give for a trade show right now. Anything. Because we are a people. Humans have to be around people. We can say we want to hide in our houses all we want, but we really need that interaction. So, we use our industry to do that. We create listservs. We ask for volunteers. Who wants to … What I do for my industry is buying and visual dynamic displays. So, I’m on the list of mentors for dynamic displays, and you can schedule an appointment and I’ll take my laptop onto the sales floor during COVID and I will build a display and I will practice it with you.
Because you making money and being successful means the whole industry is successful. That’s really what the point is. There are a lot of industries that have industry publications. Find that industry. Ask your direct, hey, are we part of any associations? Yes. Okay. Can you give me the list? And then go through the list? Hello, I’m new here. I liked your name. I’d like to pick your brain. Can I call you? Once you get used to that cold call, and it’s not that cold, because it’s in the industry. It’s just going to make it a lot easier to create those relationships and then get the data that you need.
Maybe you find out your organization has been working with a vendor, that’s terrible. It’s a good price, but it’s a terrible vendor, and you learned this from somewhere else. So, you can get ahead of that socially conscious sourcing question, say, “Hey, I found a new vendor, better price, socially conscious. I’d like to make a proposal.” Here, you’re ahead of the curve that they didn’t even know they had because you reached out to somebody you found in a magazine.
Yeah. Let’s dive into that.
For me, it’s always be on the lookout.
For sure. We’ve mentioned it a few times, or at least you did, this socially conscious, this source conscious thing. This is, I guess, in the age of procurement, it’s relatively new to start looking into.
It’s new. Yes.
I think it stems from customers wanting socially conscious brands. It stems from that and it’s getting bigger and bigger. If your whole customer base wants eco-friendly and you are procuring products that are not eco-friendly, they’re going to find out. They know everything. I don’t know how they do it, but they know where you’re getting your stuff. So, it’s really hard to find socially conscious brandings, but more and more vendors are putting that out there. We’re sustainable. We donate a certain amount of our profits to nonprofit organizations XYZ.
Sometimes that’s where you can start. If you have a vendor you want, where do they donate their money? What are they doing with their time? Like Subaru, they’re always donating money somewhere, right? They’re a socially conscious brand. They want to minimize their carbon impact. That’s socially conscious. How do you research that? And you can Google it. Again, Google it, socially conscious brands, and then chip away and see what you need.
Alternately what I do, because I’m also buying products, if I’m at a store and I see something I like, I take a picture of it. I have an 86 from a lot of stores. I’m just going to put it out there. I see something I’m like, oh, that’s hell interesting, start taking pictures of it. Because then I can do my research on that particular item. I can research the brand and I can research their portfolio. Is it a little bit more work? Yes. But I’m a firm believer in more work today is going to save me days worth of heartache or days worth of problems later.
If you do that data now and really come to your direct report and be like, I found four new vendors, socially conscious, donate to nonprofits. We can use their story as part of our story, we’re supporting them, they’re supporting us. Our customer thinks we’re way hot now. Sweet.
Yeah. Vendors themselves, I think it’s really important, I guess anybody, to say that they are socially conscious if they are doing that already. Put it on their website, put it on their vendor profile on whatever procurement platform, or if you’re doing it at handwritten, whatever it is, yeah, tell your story, because otherwise, how will people know?
Yeah. That makes total sense to me. We have one more question here, and we’ve kind of been talking a lot about this in some way or another, but let’s have it official here. Utilizing information that has been passed down historically in the organization. We can dive deeper in innovating from that information.
Especially organizations that are well-established, you’re just going to walk in and the table is set for you. Table set, ready to go. Some of that information is super useful. I like to tell newbs, don’t dismiss data, cause it’s old, don’t dismiss outlier data. Don’t dismiss aberrant your data. I tell people now, don’t dismiss COVID data. When we want to talk about what the worst case situation looks like, we have just been given a whole year’s worth of data for that. Don’t dismiss it. But when you get historical data, you want to take it with a grain of salt and ask the question, why do we do this?
Why do we use them specifically? Why do we take these steps? Again, it’s going to make you uncomfortable because they don’t always want to know why. But again, if you just say, well, that’s how we’ve always done it. Well, then I’m going to take it as a personal challenge to do it any other way I possibly can because it has to be more efficient, but then it may not be. You may find that there’s a reason this historical data has always been used. There’s a reason this historical vendors have been used.
It’s trying to utilize old data the right way and to maximize what … Okay, these four things don’t need to be changed because they’re rock solid and nothing in our industry has changed. But these six steps, these six steps stopped being useful during the Cold War. We need to move all of that out. We need to add these new steps, and especially technology. That is going to be your biggest crutch, because not every industry, not every business use a procurement database, and that kind of should.
I mean, you can have a lot of data in your head and really hope you don’t get hit by a car next week. But if you have that all streamlined, not only do you have all of your historical data, but you can access new and future trends, new and future products, new and future vendors that may not be there without the assistance of some of these databases. But then you can see how it all lives in breaths. Again, procurement is a living, breathing organism. How do the old parts integrate with the new parts that we’re building?
Again, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Can it be better? And how do you have those verbal conversations to pull your organization with you? You may be pulling them with you, and so it’s just having the confidence to say, look, here’s this procurement system. I know it looks like Skynet. It’s not going to do anything bad to you. I really promise. Look at how efficient this is. Once you get used to it, you’re going to have more time to, I don’t know, look out a window or look at cat videos. You’re going to have all of this time to do more innovative data when you’ve streamlined your historical stuff.
Once you move from paper procurement to digital procurement, your efficiency goes up. Look, I’m not going to lie, it just really does. But you have to be ready to make that uncomfortable step, and usually it’s the younger buyers who are ready to do it.
Yeah, I completely agree. This whole moving into digital procurement is scary. We kind of already talked about that too, but how does one, especially a young procurement professional, look at this data and be like, “I have an idea. I want to change something, but everybody around me is so hesitant to move on to this new way of doing things. How do I even begin to make change if nobody really wants to make that step?”
That’s a great question, and what I would do, because I’m, like I said, I’m high maintenance, I’m a little bit. I’m a little pushy. I would reach out. I would listen to their feedback, ask the questions. Why don’t you want to move? What is it about it that’s uncomfortable? What needs must be met for you to say, you know what? I’m willing to try that application. I’m willing to go there. You do the research, you make the call. Hi, hello Bonfire. I would really love to convince all of the people in my industry who somehow are 600 years old each, and I would like to move them into the future, can I get a demo? Ask the question. It never hurts to ask.
Because you may find that the system they have, it may be a system full of bells and whistles that your organization doesn’t need, but Patty in AP may lose her mind when she sees how streamless his effectiveness is, and all of a sudden Patty in AP and Stan in receiving are best friends. So, you didn’t know a demo of a procurement system would solve years worth of emotional [crosstalk 00:45:05] in people, right? But you don’t know until you ask, and it’s really being confident enough to be like, look, you hired me for a reason. Not only am I pretty funny, but I’m good at what I do, and I want to take us into the future and I know that I can do this without making everybody super uncomfortable.
I know we can do this. Will you give me the chance to try, and will you back me on it? Because if we can do this, I can save you money, I can save you time and I can save you some headaches, and it’s just having the confidence to say that. Ask the question.
Everyone loves hearing that. Save money? Yes, please. How do we save money? How do we funnel that money into something [crosstalk 00:45:47] instead get more new hires or do anything else with that money? Yeah, I like that. Free demo, I think is also a word that people like too. Oh, it doesn’t cost me anything to just … I guess look at it 30 minutes of my time, whatever it is, it could change the entire scope of your business by just looking into it. Yeah, I love this. What a amazing conversation today, Joanna.
I have one more question for you before we end today’s call, and that is what is the number one piece of advice that you’d give for someone starting in the career of public procurement? Now, we have asking questions. I know you love that, and I love this answer, but what else do you [inaudible 00:46:29]?
I wanted something incredibly philosophical. As COVID showed us, the world slowed down, the world stopped, and humans loved that. Actually, we loved not operating at a hundred miles an hour every day, but in reality, that’s the system we built and it’s a system we’re going to have to roll back into. As our customers become more confident, as our businesses begin to come more confident, we will need to move faster, and the lifeblood that comes in and out we’ll need to move faster. My number one takeaway, my biggest piece of advice is to double check your shit before you hit submit.
Every time, always double check. Again, where do you want to make your errors? Do you want to make your errors with a multimillion dollar requisition or do you want to make your errors because you accidentally ordered a couple more cases of K pods for the coffee maker? Double-check your shit before you hit submit, always. Because we’re going to start going real fast and we’re going to stop paying attention, and that’s where errors are made. So, just take a few seconds, save yourself some heartache down the road.
I love that. You do believe that everything’s going to start picking up in an accelerator rate over the next …
We do, and the customer confidence is picking up. Customer expectations have changed. Again, that’s why we talk about socially conscious sourcing. Customer expectations have changed, but buyer confidence is creeping back out there. In order to get ahead, especially in terms that people who have not been using a lot of procurement in order to save money, they’re going to have to speed up to meet those demands, and so it’s really important that you’re paying attention to the details.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Joanna, this has been such a great conversation with you today. I can feel the excitement, the charisma of procurement. I can feel everybody who is unsure about procurement, they’re like, you know what? Quitting my job today. Just do it. Just do it.
Go for it.
You have Joanna’s [crosstalk 00:48:26] approval of quitting your job and joining procurement, if you want to, of course, if you want to. It’s a lot of fun. I feel as though you have so much more in that brain of yours to share to the people. You have so much knowledge in this field, and it’s just fantastic to talk to you today about this. Joanna, do you have any way for the people to connect with you, email, LinkedIn or anything like that, if they want to?
Absolutely. I’m on LinkedIn, Joanna Hunt, J-O-A-N-N-A H-U-N-T. Pretty easy to find. I’m also on email. You can email me at my Gmail account, sorry, J-O-A-N-N-A.m, as in Marie.hunt, H-U-N-T, @gmail.com. Linkedin, I’m super easy to find, and you can always connect with me, and I’m happy, I’m happy to connect with anybody, answer questions. Like I said, procurement specialists got to stick together. We got to make sure the lifeblood is moving in and out. I’m happy to reach out any day to anyone.
Keep that wheel turning, Game of Thrones style, without the deaths, without the deaths in Game of Thrones.
Keep it going.
All right, everyone. This has been Inside Public Procurement. Once again, my name is Toung, and we’ll see you guys on another episode. Take care, everyone.
Procurement professionals like you are the lifeblood of public sector organizations dedicated, not only to supporting your agency, but the constituents you serve. That’s why we’ve created the Inside Public Procurement Podcast here at Bonfire. A unique place where you can share stories and discuss the topics that matter to public procurement pros. From digitization and the future of public procurement, to ensuring a fair and transparent process. We’re all about finding new strategies to help your agency succeed. Join us at gobonfire.com to learn more.
You’ve been listening to Inside Public Procurement by Bonfire. If you like what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. And if you have an idea for an episode or want to come on as a guest, email us at [email protected] Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time.
Learn more about how eProcurement can foster collaboration amidst procurement, your internal clients, and your agency.