CSR, a cherry in the sales pitch ?

Cerise sur le gateau

Have you ever participated in a consultation as part of a call for tenders? Most often integrated in the form of a questionnaire, CSR is part of the purchasing process. Experienced as restrictive and time-consuming, the exercise is of little interest to the companies consulted. However, questioning the company on its CSR commitment is a good way to reward the best and accelerate the conversion of laggards. However, current purchasing practices are below their potential for influence.

Ranging from a few lines to several pages, these questionnaires, which close calls for tenders, often appear as the necessary checkbox. Composed of a list of non-standard points, because defined by each client, they place the service provider in the position of a good or bad student: answering with a “no” inevitably leads to a downgrading of the final grade. The desire to answer with a systematic “yes” relativized by a comment is therefore tempting. Moreover, this system places them in a posture of justification: they complete, explain if necessary, and possibly provide formal proof.

However, the questionnaire has the merit of scoring and classifying companies according to a CSR performance assessed by the client. This is to ensure that the supplier will not compromise the reliability of the supply chain. It is an essential exercise, motivated by the requirement of compliance and the duty of vigilance. It is necessary but insufficient.

I have supported the sales force of companies for many years. with few exceptions, CSR is seen as the icing on the cake. We look at it at the end of the response process, when the offer is closed. It is therefore not a question of enriching or adjusting the answer with a CSR dimension but simply of completing a form. CSR is not a selling point.

Unlike other criteria (techniques, quality, price, etc.), the weight of CSR is generally unknown or low enough not to capture the attention of the response team. On the other hand, when its weight is considerable, as is the case in certain public calls for tenders, this criterion can reach up to 25% of the final assessment. The ability to demonstrate the company’s CSR commitment can then make a significant difference with its competitors.

However, there is an extremely effective way to ensure the company’s real commitment to CSR.

First of all, ask service providers how their offer (product or service) will contribute to the customer’s CSR issues (social challenges, energy management, development of income, safety or well-being of employees, etc.) and allow them to achieve their goals. This assumes that the response teams have carried out prior analysis work on the client’s CSR commitment and also that they have worked on the CSR dimension of their offer, which is not common.

This also implies that the sales force can call on a CSR expert (within the company or outside) to assist them on this subject. However, internal CSR teams are not always perceived as having the ability to participate in business development. However, it is essential that they are associated with it.

Then, it may be interesting to question the service provider on how to design and implement the project to assess its ability to concretely unfold the thread of CSR in the field.

The advantage of this dual approach is to measure the service provider’s level of compliance and best practices, and also to show its ability to integrate CSR into its activities for the benefit of its stakeholders. This makes it possible to differentiate those that have put CSR at the heart of their strategy and business model, from those that are less committed. Combined with the questionnaire and the extra-financial assessment, it is certainly a very impactful means of action: it strengthens the resilience of the purchasing chain and accelerates the CSR performance of the customer and the supplier.

When you know that the purchasing budget represents on average 50% of a company’s turnover[1], there is really enough to make it a tactical lever to act actively in favor of ecological and societal transition !
[1] Source: Ademe

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Sophie Chambon

With Sophie's eye, I take a critical and constructive look at a topical subject where committed and powerful CSR can make a difference.

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