Rant on blogger, rant on along
Rant on buddy till the day is through
Rant on brother, sister too
Rant on momma like I asked you to do
And rant on fellow blogger, rant on (Rant On!)
In the last year, I’ve been pretty active talking about one of my favourite topics, “What Not To Do” when conducting a strategic sourcing event. I’ve blogged about it on multiple sites, spoken about it on several guest podcasts, have a chapter in our book about it, and Joe Payne and I even lightly discussed the topic on a morning television news show in Arizona (which I doubt more than five people tuned in for). So when the good doctor told me he was inviting guest rants this month, I knew what I was going to scribble about. But then, I started to think about it a bit more. I think I’ve said enough on the topic, and I think there is an even more basic premise that deserves attention. That premise is: Why do people in business look to disqualify something when then should be looking to qualify it?
I’m sure we’ve all heard the following lines come out of our colleague’s mouths before: “We did that before it didn’t work“, “It’s always worked until now; why would we change it“, “Our staff doesn’t adapt well to change“, “Let’s just push this through for now and look at the alternatives another time“, “it wouldn’t work here“, “we’re not ready for that“, “it’s not really practical here“, “we don’t have the time“, “it costs too much“, “it’s not in this year’s budget“, “we’re too busy“, or the one I hate most “our company (or our requirements) is different“.
As consultants, there really is not a day that goes by that we don’t here at least one of these classic lines from one of our clients. As procurement or supply chain professionals, you probably have all heard one of those dreaded deal breakers right when you thought you had a really creative solution, technology, or vendor that could have helped your business.
But, did you realize that a large portion of you are doing exactly the same thing during your sourcing process? You probably aren’t aware you are doing it, as it’s not as direct as the examples above. And in many cases, it’s really not your fault; you’re just following a procedure, policy or e-sourcing software template that was written in stone before your time. What I’m talking about is a sourcing process that looks to disqualify instead of qualify.
Let’s really look at your sourcing process, whether it’s the Supplier Discovery, RFI/RFQ/RFX/Reverse Auction, or whatever you call it. Does it have questions that really serve any purpose other than to disqualify? Why are those questions included? Chances are, they are simply there to help take a long list of potential suppliers down to a really short list, in order to make the review, selection and award process easier and quicker. Well, we all know that easier and quicker is not always better, but this often gets ignored when it comes to doing work. Here are just some examples of what I’m referring to:
- Is your company ISO certified? Questions like these (the hard YES/NO), especially used in conjunction with automated rating and scorecarding tools in e-sourcing systems are a huge pet peeve of mine. First off, is the ISO certification even relevant to what’s being sourced? In most cases, it’s not. Secondly, it leaves no margin for answer. What if you are going through the process but will not be certified until next month? What if you are not ISO certified, but are certified by a similar industry specific association, like QS? “Well, we didn’t ask that. You’re disqualified.”
- We recently responded to a large RFP that had a short deadline. One of the requirements of the RFP was that the response was received electronically and in hard copy, no later than 2:00 PM on a certain date. The company we responded to acknowledged receipt of the submission, but FedEx was actually late in delivery of the hard copy, 2:37 PM to be precise. The prospect promptly rejected the delivery and entirely disqualified us from the bid, even though they already held the electronic copy. They never even opened the bid. We’re not the only ones either; I talked to others who responded that had the same thing happen, all because of a storm that delayed FedEx by a few minutes. In this case, a ridiculous policy had a company throwing away potentially the best possible suppliers without even reviewing their submissions. In other words, “Oh, you’re human and a small mistake happened? You’re disqualified.”
- We frequently see RFPs that have a “deadline” for submitting questions. Many of those companies refuse to answer any new question you may have after that deadline date. What does that lead to? Well, it forces suppliers to guess at what they THINK you may need, often missing the mark and often submitting a proposal that doesn’t really address the buyer’s needs appropriately. It’s not that they couldn’t support your need; they just simply misinterpreted your requirements and did not have a fair opportunity to present a proper solution. “You couldn’t read our minds, You’re disqualified.”
- Do you have on office within 25 miles of our location? Well, no, we don’t but the work is being done remotely, so that should not have any impact on our level of service or price … “Too bad, You’re disqualified.”
- Here’s a 43 page RFP where every answer is a long-form answer and half of the questions don’t apply to this initiative. You have until Friday at 5 to answer it. “That’s not enough time? You’re disqualified.”
- You must agree upfront that you will use my procure-to-pay punch-out catalog ordering system. Oh, and the software company that runs it gets a piece of every single transaction. But I still want the best possible price. You want more information or are concerned about digging into your margins? “I don’t understand why you could give me a better price if you didn’t have to pay an intermediary too. You’re disqualified.”
- We’ve got this great opportunity to ask questions for you. We call it a bidder’s conference. You’ll sit around a table with your competitors and must introduce yourself so that everyone knows who they are competing with. “What do you mean you are uncomfortable doing that? That’s what I want. You’re disqualified.” (This is providing that they don’t drop out themselves as most suppliers do after they have to sit through a circus like a bidder’s conference).
- “Do you have substantial experience supplying the nano-microorganism plating industry? Provide me with 5 references. You sell office supplies? I don’t see how that is relevant to the question. Do you supply other nano-microorganism plating companies or not? No? You’re disqualified.”
I could go on and on with dozens of examples of poorly written questions or poor methodologies that serve absolutely no purpose other than to disqualify, but I’m already over the doctor’s budgeted word count (I hope he doesn’t disqualify my post for it).*
Now, I’m not saying that some questions and some responses shouldn’t be grounds for immediate dismissal, and I understand that you have to find an appropriate balance of how many suppliers you can review for a spend category, but sourcing and procurement folks really should take a hard look at their processes and really look at themselves to see if they are just as guilty as the naysayers throwing around clichéd business brush-offs like the ones I wrote about above. Are you really offering a warm invitation to suppliers to help improve your business, or are you just schlepping through a dreaded process just to tell your bosses that you “went to market”?
Thanks, Bill! You’re really helping me with my point that many RFX processes are not implemented correctly, especially in technology acquisition at large companies!
*To be precise, Bill is over my suggested word count, which I’m happy to ignore as long as the rant is raving and engaging!