Wednesday 2 May 2012

Buyer-seller corruption, a potential hot-potato for all?

Yesterday’s court case involving large-scale corrupt payments to a potato buyer raises important issues for suppliers and retailers. Given the potential impact on share prices of both parties, coupled with ever stringent corporate and government monitoring in these unprecedented times, it is surprising that anyone is nowadays prepared to take the risk of being a party to corrupt inducements to buy. In other words, it needs just one person with a conscience, or a grievance, to lift the lid….

However, given that the current plaintiff was arrested in 2008, with the case having now arrived in court, it could be said that parties on each side of the seller-buyer relationship harbouring any doubts re. their version of the selling-buying process have had adequate time to reflect on the implications and take appropriate action.

The distinction between gifts and bribery
If buying decisions were made solely on objective, rational criteria, a computer would probably do a better job. Instead, given that the basic offer satisfies the key objective criteria, then a host of emotional criteria/influences/needs come into play.

Emotional needs in buying 
These include needs for avoiding effort, self-esteem, (pride, self-importance, power), to imitate, to acquire money (via saving vs. making, for the company) need for possession (icing-on-cake), investigate (data), create (new), sense of duty, and especially a need for security (avoiding fear). These can include meals out, or even a bottle of whisky at Christmas.

It needs to be emphasised that such attempts to satisfy the emotional needs of a buyer are not corruption, they are merely ‘icing on the cake’ by way of celebrating a done deal, a deal which ticks all the rational, objective boxes.

Bribery defined
Bribery is quite clearly an overt inducement to the buyer to over-ride the logic of a buying decision where a supplier’s competitor is patently offering a better deal on a like-with-like basis. In other words, the supplier’s offering is equal with that of the competitor except for the additional £10k on the price to fund the bribe.

This point, the first of many, was brought out yesterday in court by the prosecution: "A peculiar feature of the corruption was that it was self-funding. [The supplier was] not paying for it, [the retailer was] paying for the corruption of their own buyer and this was achieved by overcharging [the retailer]".

Action for NAMs and KAMs
The answer for NAMs/KAM’s is always to attempt to revert to the base deal and check that it satisfies objective buying criteria (the buyer’s job needs), like-with-like, before focusing on the buyer’s emotional needs. In practice some of this process occurs simultaneously, but it remains vital that the supplier’s basic offering is defensible and transparent, always, and with 20/20 hindsight…..its the nature of the job, folks. 

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