A Q&A with OECM’s Sonia Gallo
No two procurement teams are the same, and neither are their needs, objectives, and sourcing strategies. Ahead, we chat about the value of effective customer engagement for collaborative procurement with Sonia Gallo, Director of Communications and Customer Relations with OECM.
Why are customer relations and communication important for collaborative sourcing, particularly in today’s environment?
First and foremost, collaborating with customers to identify their wants and needs is the foundation for successful procurement plans. With strong customer relations and engagement strategies in place, you can leverage the shared knowledge between those customers to create more informed, collaborative, and resilient procurement plans. Of course, doing so also requires strong partnerships and communications with supplier partners and other stakeholders.
In short: customers are integral to OECM’s business. The procurements we embark on are directly influenced by the organizations we serve, and we do so through a proactive approach to listening, engaging with them regularly, and aligning our sourcing plan to their needs.
What is the value of effective customer communications in the procurement environment?
Effective customer communications is about proactively reaching out to your audience with a high degree of timeliness and transparency to ensure greater collaboration, efficiency and, ultimately, success.
To that point, I wholeheartedly believe in multi-dimensional approaches to communications. You must understand the value of matching the right content and expertise to the right audience. Whether that audience is your customers, supplier partners, or government stakeholders that you liaise with as part of your day-to-day business.
The value of customer communications cannot be overstated. That’s why we have both a corporate communications function and a marketing function at OECM. The former helps us to tailor our communications to niche audiences and inform our thought leadership initiatives, which helps position OECM experts and leaders in both deliberate and thoughtful ways. Meanwhile, our marketing and communications team works tirelessly to promote our Marketplace of Products and Services, which are comprised of over 400 Master Agreements. Both communication functions have different purposes, but both are vital in delivering on OECM’s business priorities.
What role does OECM serve in helping customers achieve their procurement objectives? How do you support that role internally?
Our role – which is reflected in OECM’s mission, vision, values, and strategic priorities – is to utilize our collective expertise to offer customers a heightened level of value, savings, choice, and service. And certainly, giving our customers the knowledge, insights, and resources to do that is key to serving that role.
One way to accomplish this is by enabling technology to optimize the customer experience. For example, we recently launched a CRM [customer relationship management] system to help us manage our customer relations more effectively. We’re also embarking on a website transformation that will feature dashboards and other enhancements to allow our customers and suppliers to engage in a more seamless experience with OECM.
Another way we work to keep customers informed and connected is through strong collaborations between our teams. In addition to our customer relationship management team, we have a sourcing team, a supplier relationship management team, and a business development team who work collaboratively with our customers, suppliers, and government stakeholders to deliver on OECM’s extensive value proposition.
Through this internal and external collaboration, we can identify innovative procurement solutions and help our customers access new opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to. Some of our customers have smaller procurement teams or smaller budgets, so by leveraging technology, our network, and internal teams, we can do the heavy lifting and help customers access the products and services that they need and may not have been able to initiate on their own.
What makes your approach to customer engagement unique?
OECM’s customer relationship management program is uniquely structured to ensure our customers receive consistent support as well as greater strategic value from collaborative procurement endeavours. We have a dedicated customer support team that uses a sector-specific portfolio approach that is based on the sectors we serve. Our customers include school boards, colleges, universities, municipalities, and other BPS organizations and not-for-profits. Each of our customer relationship managers is assigned various portfolios to manage those sectors and the customers within.
Beyond that, we apply a unique approach to understanding who our customers are, how they operate, and their specific needs. As part of our CRM program, we conduct frequent business reviews with customers across the sectors to understand their priorities, budgets, participation level, and where we can help them augment their business.
Lastly, we are always pursuing strategic partnerships, outreach, and sponsorship opportunities. We have a whole program around this, in fact, where we’ve secured over 70 engagements this year alone. That network includes sector associations that work with our customers, allowing us to further support their procurement goals.
This article was published in the February 2023 issue of the Ontario Public Buyers Association (OPBA) Caveat Emptor E-News.