Procurement specialists may not have the most glamorous role, but they are the people who keep the gears of the business world turning. They negotiate with suppliers, manage contracts, and ensure that the company gets the best possible value for its money.
But it's not just about getting the best price. Procurement specialists must also be mindful of the company's values and mission, making sure that the suppliers they work with align with the organization's goals and beliefs.
Whether you're a seasoned procurement pro or just curious about what it takes to succeed in this field, in this article we’ll talk about how you can level up your career. Let’s start with the basics.
What is a procurement specialist?
A procurement specialist manages the acquisition of goods and services in an organization. Their primary goal is to make sure that the company procures high-quality goods and services at the most competitive prices while also adhering to proper processes, policies, and regulations. In some industries, procurement specialists are called purchasing agents or supply chain managers.
In this role, your job description will include tasks like sourcing suppliers, negotiating contracts, and managing vendor relationships. You might also be responsible strategic work like managing budgets, tracking metrics, and ensuring that processes are compliant with legal regulations. At smaller companies, procurement responsibilities can fall under other departments—like legal or operations.
Put simply, to procure means “to get.” So what does your company need to get and how can they do that in a competitive, compliant way? That’s the procurement specialist’s job.
How hard is procurement?
If you're considering a role in procurement, there are a few things you should know. It's not just about being a liaison between the company and external suppliers, although that is certainly an important part of the job. You'll also need to be skilled in negotiation, budgeting, and organization, and typically hold a bachelor's degree.
While education or certification can prepare you for a role in procurement, some challenges should be expected. Some of the most common risks in procurement include:
• Supplier risk: If your supplier goes bust, or they just can't deliver what you need when you need it, then you're in a tight spot. Poor quality can be another issue from suppliers.
• Contractual risk: Faster contracts means faster business. Incomplete or poorly defined contract terms can lead to disputes or misunderstandings between the buyer and supplier—and major delays in your operations.
• Financial risk: The market is always changing so you might see shifts in demand, pricing, availability, or regulatory requirements. You might also experience fraud or mismanagement of funds (leading to loss or damaage reputation).
• Operational risk: Think human error or lack of oversight. You might also run into issues with your technology (including cybersecurity threats or disruptions to information systems).
The good news is that effective risk management strategies can help you identify, assess, and mitigate these risks. By minimizing the impact of these risks on the procurement process and the organization as a whole, you'll be able to make a positive impact on your company's success.
Don't be afraid to ask for help when these risks arise, and always be willing to learn and grow in your role.
Seven ways to be successful as a procurement specialist
In addition to risk management, these seven skills will help you be successful in your procurement career:
1. Analytical mindset
Procurement specialists need strong analytical skills to evaluate supplier proposals, negotiate contracts, and track procurement metrics. You need to be able to identify and solve problems that arise in the day-to-day processes, such as delivery delays or quality issues.
2. Interpersonal skills
You’re going to spend a lot of time communicating with other departments within your organization and building relationships with external suppliers. You’ll also be expected to negotiate in a way that results in the best possible price and contract terms for the company—and also maintains a strong partnership.
3. Attention to detail
Procurement specialists need to be detail-oriented, especially with compliance requirements. All procurement activities must comply with applicable laws and regulations and contract terms must be accurately reflected in purchase orders.
4. Project management
Strong organizational skills with help you manage multiple procurement activities simultaneously and ensure that deadlines are met. While a background in project management isn’t required, it will help you keep your orders straight.
5. Financial acumen
Procurement specialists need to understand financial concepts such as cost-savings, budgeting, and return on investment. You’ll also need to understand how your spending impacts business goals and strategies.
6. Strategic thinking
While you may not be an executive, your day-to-day is informed by business strategy. Procurement specialists need to be able to think strategically and develop procurement strategies that align with the organization's overall goals and objectives.
7. Confidence with technology
From spend management to supply chain to contract lifecycle management software, there’s a lot to learn. Some of these software solutions are straightforward, but others will take some getting used to. If you’re not technically savvy, you should at least be comfortable teaching yourself new software.
A successful procurement specialist will have a combination of technical and interpersonal skills. This will help you manage the procurement process effectively while also building relationships with internal stakeholders and external suppliers.
How will my success be measured?
As in any role in any business, the success of a procurement specialist will likely be measured by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These metrics will help you—and your company—measure your performance and track progress towards your goals.
Here are a few KPIs to consider in procurement:
• Cost savings: The amount of money that procurement activities have saved the organization compared to the previous year or benchmark.
• Supplier performance: The ability of suppliers to meet quality, delivery, and other performance requirements.
• Procurement cycle time: The amount of time it takes for a procurement activity, (such as issuing a purchase order), to be completed.
• Inventory management: The amount of inventory on hand and the accuracy of inventory records.
• Purchase order accuracy: The percentage of purchase orders that are accurate and complete.
These metrics can help you identify high-performing and underperforming suppliers, pin down bottlenecks, reduce cycle time, optimize inventory levels, and improve purchase order accuracy. Choose which KPIs to focus on based on those that best align with the organization's overall goals and objectives.
Keep learning and adapting
Procurement specialists are the unsung heroes of any successful business. The procurement landscape is constantly changing, and there are always new risks to manage. To be successful in this role, you’ll need to be adaptable and always on the lookout for new ways to improve their processes.
If you're thinking about a career in procurement or you're already in the field, keep learning and growing. The more you know, the more valuable you become to your company.
From contract negotiation to supplier relationship management, a strong contract management solution can help you be more effective in your procurement role. You can learn more about Lexion’s intuitive workflow tool here.
What certificates are required for procurement management?
It’s unlikely your employer will require you to hold a certificate or formal certification for procurement.
However, many professional organizations offer procurement certifications, such as the Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) certification from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) or the Certified Procurement Professional (CPP) certification from the American Purchasing Society (APS). Earning a certification requires passing an exam that covers topics such as procurement strategies, supplier management, contract negotiation, and legal and ethical considerations.
Getting a certificate as a procurement specialist can be helpful in enhancing your career opportunities and professional credibility. But it’s not a requirement.
How much do procurement specialists make?
According to data from Glassdoor, the average base salary for a procurement specialist in the United States is around $67,000 per year. However, salaries can range from around $43,000 to over $100,000 per year depending on factors like level of experience, location, industry, and size of the organization.