Forget About Marketing to the C-Suite; the Money’s in the P-Cube

Why marketers need to pay attention to the Procurement Department

I always feel a bit sorry for sales people in the summer. What with all the golf days, baseball games and other client entertainments they barely have time for a manicure.

Before you hand me over to your sales team for my richly deserved beating, hear me out. You really do have to pity the sales folks. Other than a sunburn, many will have little to show for their 18 holes. That’s because they’ve been hanging about with the wrong people; they’ve been spending time with C-level people and VPs and directors and that sort — forgetting entirely about the poor schmucks in the procurement department.

Business-to-business (B2B) marketers also overlook the P-Cubers (procurement people don’t get a suite, they get a cluster of cubicles), which is surprising since we aren’t distracted by golf nearly as often. In case you haven’t met the P-Cube crowd, these are the folks also known as the Vendor Abuse Department.

They scrutinize product specifications (yes, someone actually reads that stuff), they negotiate payment terms, statements of work and early cancellation clauses. They are measured on boring things like opex, supply chain efficiency, depreciation management and shrinkage. And do we even send them a Christmas card? An ugly pen and pencil set? A travel mug? No.

Not that they’d accept it, of course. The other thing about procurement people, at least the good ones, is that unlike their avaricious counterparts up the food chain, they maintain an objective distance (or ought to) from their suppliers and the tiny acts of bribery thinly disguised as marketing. They can also be pack animals. Many companies have a roaming band of thugs known as the Buying Committee, whose role is to lengthen the sales cycle and make project managers cry. Don’t let the name fool you: buying committees are just off-leash P-Cubers.

Whether solitary or in packs, the point is that we ignore these folks at our peril. In some companies they are the real decision makers, in others they are key influencers and in many they can make your life miserable if you mistreat them with end runs and poor manners.

P-Cubers have been adapting to recent economic events by feeding further down the decision chain. Prior to the 2008 meltdown, managers had discretionary authority in the five and six figures. Now that limit is lower and the number of signatures much, much greater. And the P-Cubers are up in everyone’s business making them all very twitchy.

So while sales people clean their Titleists, it’s up to the marketers to make sure the P-Cubers have what they need to buy stuff from us. Here’s what smart marketers should be doing to be more P-Cube friendly:

Actually read your product spec sheets

Just because the product manager signed off on them, doesn’t mean they are literate, compelling or even useful. Would you be able to line up a business need against them and come out smiling? Don’t delegate this one to the summer student.

Make it easy to align your product or service with a business need

P-Cubers have very little patience for value propositions, vague assertions and other twaddleicious bits of copy your agency is submitting for this year’s awards season. Follow the classic feature-benefit-example model and they’ll love you.

Talk support

Make sure your marketing materials talk about customer support (not the kind involving theatre tickets , real support from technical people). P-Cubers get all the blame if the vendor doesn’t come through when things go sideways.

Get out your boilerplate

P-Cubers need to wallpaper their rear ends just as much as the rest of us and that begins with due diligence on their suppliers. Make sure you have tight copy around company size, history, core competencies, revenue, ownership and so on.

Get your reference accounts in order

Arse-covering is a testimonial-driven activity and you’ll make your P-Cuber’s day with a few well-crafted letters of reference or summaries from happy customers (complete with contact info so they can call for details).

Spend time on your pricing

While you and your friends in sales will need to duke out the specifics of the pricing for larger deals, you should be prepared, when the fur settles, to document the pricing in a way that makes sense to a P-Cuber. They should be able to show that sheet to their Corporate Overlords and lead them easily through it.

Create a service portal just for the P-Cube

If your IT karma is good enough, consider setting up a customized service portal just for that account. Give the P-Cube quick access to their billing records, service calls, purchase history and licensing details and you will make them very, very happy.

Get involved in the RFP

Even if you have a team that writes these things for you, they depend on content from marketing to fill in the blanks. If you let your sales team write the RFP responses, then now is a very, very good time to take a look at the templates they use to ensure they are both accurate and benefits focused.

Know the priorities

Read the customer’s annual report or most recent quarterly statement. If it’s a public company, it has to publish results and those results usually include some blather about priorities from the C-suite. The P-Cube takes its strategic priorities from the C-Suite so you may find some of the hot buttons for procurement in that information. If the company is all about cost containment, make sure your messaging talks about that and your reference accounts saved some dough. If it’s about growth, demonstrate how your solution is ideal for growing companies and provide examples.

Educate the P-Cube

Procurement people are expected to buy products for everyone from IT to legal to maintenance, so their understanding of any one area is likely to be limited. This means they need to ramp up pretty quickly when there’s a big purchase on the horizon. If you can make general information about your industry or product category available in the form of white papers, by-lined articles, primers or presentations, you can win hearts and minds in P-Cube Land and position your company as a thought leader.

This post originally appeared on the BizMarketer blog.

BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams
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