by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | August 19, 2008

Consolidated purchasing for meetings, incentives and events is now standard practice for many firms. The reasons are myriad: Procurement departments can leverage the firm’s buying power, track resources, prequalify preferred vendors and mandate spending caps.

In the early days, procurement and meeting professionals were at odds, to put it mildly, with little understanding of each other’s functions. But now, five years or so down the road, procurement pros seem to have learned from their early mistakes, though on occasion they can still rile up even the most mild mannered of planners.

The key thing planners have learned is that when it comes to consolidation and procurement, resistance is futile — and it can be irresponsible: Don’t forget the benefits procurement brings to the table. In short, planners and procurement pros now are partners, for better or worse — but truly better if both sides know and learn from the history of an often rocky relationship.

Planners — and I am one — did not like the initial procurement/consolidation revolution because, frankly, it made us feel irrelevant. Not only was it new and foreign (who are these faceless procurement people?), it was tedious and left us with absurd quantities of paperwork.

To top it off, procurement didn’t understand what a planner’s function was or recognize their value; we felt they made us do some very counterintuitive things, while it seemed like they were undermining our expertise and authority.

For example, contracts were yanked entirely out of our jurisdiction with lightning speed. This prompted many planners to question if their negotiation skills, which took years to prove worthy, would ever be required again.

Procurement departments quickly discovered, however, that one-size consolidation did not fit all and eventually included planners back into the picture. The upshot: When planners were involved in the rewriting/redesigning of purchasing processes and helping to design proprietary software to manage the consolidation process, efficiency increased exponentially.

While we may no longer negotiate all the contracts, we can and should be proactive about educating procurement on specific contract language and techniques we’ve successfully used in the past.

Taking an assertive, rather than dismissive, attitude will earn you respect and a trusted ally. Develop an alliance with the procurement team because they are tied more closely to revenue goals, strategic initiatives and senior executives. Working more closely with your procurement counterparts might end up elevating your status and profile within the company.

Consolidation now affects companies across the board and, in doing so, offers different departments the opportunity to work more cross-functionally. You might have worked in a vacuum previously, but adding value to departments outside your own will make you a more valuable, versatile employee. For example: Invite key players from different departments to attend your team meetings and make an effort to sit in on theirs. Share best practices on everything from workplace protocol to vendor selection.

Most importantly, consolidation and procurement absolutely have raised the bar with regard to compliance. The initial prime directive has been successful — but it is up to you to demonstrate/communicate to higher-ups that you have, indeed, saved the company money and resources.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is a meeting and event consultant based in San Carlos, Calif.