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Five Ways Lab Managers Can Aid the Purchasing Process

Lab managers have key roles in acquiring new lab equipment

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Lab managers play critical roles in helping the lab successfully purchase new scientific equipment. The lab relies on its leadership to acquire needed equipment, from identifying needs to negotiation to winning approval from line management. Here are five ways lab managers can contribute to the purchasing process end-to-end.

Identifying needs

Most labs have a long list of equipment desired by the lab staff. Most labs also don’t have the capital budget to deliver on all of those desires. To make the best use of the available budget, lab managers must identify the most important needs. In general, needs solve problems for the lab. Everything else are wants. Wants will make the work in the lab faster, easier, and more efficient, but they don’t address the key problems.

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To get the best information on the lab’s needs, it is important to talk to everyone in the lab. Each role can provide important information about the different needs the lab faces. As this feedback is gathered, the lab manager can determine if the suggestion represents a need or a want. 

Find options

After identifying needs, the lab manager can identify options to meet those needs. It is important to consider a wide range of options, such as purchase, lease, used equipment, and outsourcing. The goal is to find the highest value for the lab, where “value” is the intersection of greatest benefit and most reasonable cost. Note that the best value is not necessarily the lowest cost. At times, spending a little more can produce much greater benefit for the lab.

Negotiate with vendors

Most scientists are never taught how to negotiate effectively. This is an important skill for lab managers to help obtain the best value for the lab. Effective negotiation also helps to identify the vendors who are most interested in building a longer-term working relationship with the lab.

While some price negotiation is important to deliver the best value for the lab, these negotiations aren’t just about driving the purchase price down. The desired outcome is the highest value package for the lab. Besides price, other things to negotiate are the terms of the purchase contract and the services and options surrounding the purchase.

Build a successful proposal

To get serious consideration from line management, lab managers must create effective proposals. These proposals will include a business case that explains why the investment is needed, what the best options are, and the risks involved. It will also include a spreadsheet showing the full costs of the purchase, the monetized benefits of the purchase, and a return-on-investment calculation. 

Win line management approval

A written proposal is rarely sufficient to win approval for an investment. The lab manager needs to sell the importance and value of this investment. To do this effectively, lab managers need to build communication skills around advocacy and persuasiveness, be well educated around the options available to the lab, and have a track record of delivering on the investments made in the lab.

Being directly involved in the whole investment process helps lab managers make good decisions about the greatest needs for the lab and how to deliver on those needs. Learning how to communicate the costs and benefits of the required investments to line management helps to get the proposals approved.