At first sight, ­buyers moving to sales roles within ­suppliers seems a fairly ­straightforward switch. After all, the roles are just ­opposite sides of the ­equation. Or are they? In this, the first of our new regular series of ­buyers' forums, we ask whether ­the skills of buyers and ­supplier ­salespeople are ­transferable, how easy it is to switch sides and about personal experiences of the advantages and potential ­pitfalls. ­Despite general consensus on the similarity of the roles, buyers looking to change should not be too complacent, nor should they expect an easy ride, warns a ­recruitment ­consultant.

All the buyers taking part in our forum agree that the buying and selling roles share a set of skills. They list relationship building, negotiation, an ability to think on one&'s feet, communication, organisation, planning, project management, persuasion, decision-making, the need to hit targets, customer focus and retail knowledge as common attributes.
There is also widespread belief that suppliers are keen on applicants who have seen the other side.
&"There is huge value in taking on someone who understands how retailers work and what makes them tick,&" says one buyer.
And respondents are also convinced that there are benefits to both sides.
&"Much can be gained both personally and corporately for the supplier and retailer by personnel who are prepared to make the switch,&" is one comment, while another buyer, who has done both roles, adds: &"The experience of seeing both sides of the desk is invaluable and has totally changed the way I approach dealings now.&"
There is consensus that switching from buying to selling is easier than the other way round, and it is certainly more common. Dan Jago, who has taken over as Tesco&'s BWS category director, having been joint MD at Bibendum, is a rarity.
&"Even though many of the key skills are the same, I know a number of buyers that have moved to the supply side but none the other way,&" says one buyer.
&"It is possible for suppliers to make the switch, as long as they have a good understanding of what the consumer wants.&"
However, going to work for a supplier may not be as straightforward a move as most buyers seem to think.
John Gee, former Tesco buyer, now a food and drink specialist for recruitment consultant Nigel Wright, says the roles&' intrinsic links mean that buyers like to think that they could adapt easily to the opposite role.
However, he warns, there are different principles involved: &"Buyers see sales people for an hour at a time and get a feel for what makes a good salesperson, but trying to replicate this is very different.
&"There is often a lot going on behind the scenes that retailers don&'t need to know, so buyers don&'t get to see that. Sales is a discipline and buyers are not trained in it.&"
What prompts the switch is often the desire for a change of location; it is a move rarely motivated by financial concerns, at least in the short term, as Gee points out: &"Buyers wanting to move will often be up against proven sales people and will probably have to take a significant drop in salary until they&'ve proved themselves in a sales role.&"
And there are other considerations. Working conditions vary, as most retailers are office-bound, whereas suppliers work more flexibly from home. And there is also quite a shift in the balance of power, with the retailer usually having the upper hand .
Gee&'s advice is to expect a huge learning curve and be prepared for big changes. &"It&'s a major cultural change. As a buyer, you get a buzz from salespeople who are vying for your attention. As a seller, you&'ll get more knockbacks but you must not take it personally.
&"You&'ve got to prove yourself before qualifying for the big money and you&'ll have to be prepared to take a realistic view of salary.
&"There are no hard and fast rules. Some senior level buyers or category controllers have gone on to senior sales roles within suppliers but they&'ve generally had many years experience; it&'s not that easy for someone with just a few years behind them.&"

What buyers say:
"Suppliers can be too far removed from what the consumer is looking for and how they shop. As well as commercial awareness of what will improve and drive both sales and profitability for the retailer, it is important to be able to negotiate at different levels to secure the best terms possible.""Tact is probably one of the facets used more in the sales role. The customer is king, after all. When I worked as a supplier, I sat in front of a buyer who not only kept me waiting for 40 minutes, but then tore up my presentation. I had to learn to bite my lip on the odd occasion.""Buyers who have moved into account management tend to use the same approach they used as a buyer, when it is often necessary to tailor the approach depending on the role they are performing.""The main difficulty was trying to get across my view of a company initiative in light of having been in a buying role previously. The company I worked for employed me because I could add value and look at things from a buying point of view, but when it came down to it, they did not want to hear the value I was trying to add.""Buyers moving to selling tend to have a better understanding of what is required of them, both in terms of their job internally and externally in their dealings with buyers, but the skills are very similar and you have very talented people on both sides of the fence. Suppliers do need patience and perseverance though.""The bigger suppliers are generally very good at what they do and probably go on all the same courses as buyers. There are very few tactics that a good supplier will not be able to recognise and counter.""I have made the switch both ways and the roles are exactly the same in terms of what you need to achieve - managing brands and relationships with internal and external customers, market share sales and profit - with the same pressures." "Buyers must have a good overall awareness of the category, their customers and suppliers. They must be up-to-date on sales and service levels and ready to spot any opportunities or potential issues."