Buyers need to be aware that they affect the company’s reputation
“Everyone offers sales training. Not me – I’m a coach and trainer for buyers in the automotive industry.” This is how Tanja Dammann-Götsch presents herself in her Xing profile. She has more than fifteen years of experience in purchasing, first at Degussa, then at General Motors/Opel. In her interview with Einkäufer im Markt, she calls for a fundamental change in purchasing in the automotive industry.
Einkäufer im Markt: Ms. Dammann-Götsch, you’re urging buyers in the automotive industry to change their thinking. What needs to change?
Tanja Dammann-Götsch: So far, most purchasing departments focus almost exclusively on reducing costs by pushing suppliers to lower their prices. But meeting cost targets is no longer enough. Look at all the recalls we’ve seen – the reasons almost always have to do with purchased parts that were defective. Buyers need to understand that their performance affects the company’s reputation.
How is this to change if the primary metric for assessing buyers is cost?
There are trade-offs, I’m not denying that. Whereas buyers are supposed to reduce costs, the goal of quality assurance is to end up with as few faulty parts on the assembly line as possible. These two objectives are incompatible, as we have seen even at VW. Each department has its own targets, and these are constantly in conflict. People forget about collaborating for the benefit of the company. But for some time now, I’ve been watching companies say that this can’t go on, that we have to do things another way. The current situation is a huge burden on employees; burnout is not uncommon. Another problem is that staff rarely engage in verbal communication anymore - everything is being done via e-mail instead.
You train buyers. What exactly does that involve?
My main goal is to revive team spirit. One example of how I achieve this is by providing negotiation training that the purchasing and sales departments participate in together. When I first started doing this, I often ran into misunderstandings. Buyers would usually react by saying, “What do you mean we’re supposed to negotiate with the sales department? They’re much too arrogant for that!” I would hear from sales that this would come to nothing, that purchasing didn’t have a handle on costs. Each side had its own light bulb moment in the training, and their understanding of each other grew – so much that purchasing would start talking with the sales department at the company before an important negotiation with external suppliers, something that would have been unthinkable before.
You put a lot of emphasis on intercultural competence. Is that something that buyers have yet to learn?
Since I spend a lot of time abroad, I believe I am a very good judge of this. What strikes me again and again is that buyers in other countries have much more pronounced social skills than here in Germany. As an example, I was doing a training at a company where buyers from various countries were participating. A Chinese buyer told me how she had telephoned her German colleague to discuss something with him. The colleague told her to write him an e-mail, and that was the end of the conversation. This was completely normal behavior for the German, but his Chinese counterpart regarded it as a gross discourtesy. People are always telling me how rude they think Germans are, so there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
You worked in purchasing for over fifteen years. What has changed since then, and what does the future of purchasing look like to you?
The working methods haven’t changed much since I was actively involved in purchasing. Buyers usually work in open-plan offices, where they spend half their time entering data into the system. The other half of the day is for reading and writing e-mails. Somehow they fit in these “cross-functional meetings” in between, where there are often conflicts between purchasing and specialized departments. This is anything but productive.
Millennials won’t tolerate this anymore. Young people who go into purchasing straight out of college are very tech-friendly and want to be able to work remotely. Meetings can be conducted via videoconference as well. Buyers are increasingly working in project teams: Routine tasks are becoming less important. If I had to put it in a nutshell, I would say that the buyers of the future are intercultural product group managers.
Thanks for the interview, Ms. Dammann-Götsch.
Interview by Mark Krieger