In an effort to quickly catch up on the parts of S2P the doctor hasn’t been covering as much in the past few years, when he was focussed primarily on Analytics, Optimization, Modelling, and advanced tech in S2P (inc. RPI, ML, “AI”, etc.), he’s been paying more attention to LinkedIn. Probably too much, even though he can (speed) read very fast and skim a semi-infinite scroll page in a minute. Why? Because a lot of what he’s been seeing is troubling him, and as per last Friday’s post, sometimes angering him when predatory sales-people and consultants are giving other sales-people and consultants bad advice (presumably to increase their follower count or coaching sales or whatever) that will not only hurt what could be a well-intentioned sales-person or consultant (they still exist, though sometimes it seems they are fewer by the year as more sales people bleed into our space from enterprise software, looking for the next hot software solution and the next big payday), but also the individuals, and companies, those influenced sales people sell to in the thoughtless, emotionless, uncaring aggressive style the predatory sales coaches are mandating. (Not to say that a sales person shouldn’t be aggressive about getting a sale, just that they should be focussed on the companies they can actually help and be focussed on getting the customer all the information and insight that customer needs to make the right choice, feel comfortable about it, and feel prepared to defend it. The aggression should be channeled into making sure their company does everything it can to properly educate the potential client before that client commits to a long term relationship.)
A few of the things that have been repeatedly troubling him is
- all the cheat sheets he’s been seeing for those looking to get a better grip on Procurement and how it integrates into the rest of the business, that supposedly summarize everything you need to know about accounting, finance, payments / accounts payable, etc. to help you make good choices about Procurement in general;
- all the 10/20/50 Procurement, Spend, Manufacturing, etc. KPIs that you need to keep tabs on your Procurement, cashflow plan, product lifecycle, etc.; and
- all the RFP outlines or guidances that are being made available, sometimes by leaving your email, to help buyers acquire a certain technology.
And it’s not because they’re bad. They’re not. Some of them are actually quite good. A few are even excellent. Some of the cheat sheets and KPI lists the doctor has seen are incredibly well thought out, incredibly clear, and incredibly useful to you. Some are so good that, as a buyer, likely with little support from your organization and even less of a training budget, you should be profusely thanking whomever was so kind to create this for you and give it away for free.
Nor is it because the doctor suspects any ill intent or malice behind the efforts (in the vast majority of the cases). Many of these people giving away the cheat sheets or the KPI lists are generally trying to help their fellow humans get better at the job and improve the profession overall. And when the RFP outline is coming from a former practitioner, it’s also the case that they are typically trying to help you out (and maybe sell their services as a consultant, but they are providing proof of value up-front).
So why has it been troubling the doctor so? It took a while and some thought to put his finger on it, and the answer is, surprisingly, one of the reasons [but not the obvious one] that the doctor hates software vendor RFPs and despises any vendor that gives you one.
Now, the primary reason the doctor despises those RFPs, which became popular when Procuri started doing it en-masse in the mid-to-late 2000s (before being acquired by Ariba and quietly sunsetted as the integration never finished by the time Ariba sold to SAP, for those of you who remember the APE circus), is that these RFIPs are always written to be entirely one sided and ensure the vendor giving them away ALWAYS comes out on top. The feature list is exactly what the vendor offers, the weightings correspond exactly to the vendor core strengths, etc. etc. etc. And don’t tell me you can start with a vendor RFP and alter it to suit other vendors, because you can’t. You’d have to know all the features as the vendor focussed on point features, not integrated functions, and you, as a buyer who’s never used a modern system, have no knowledge of how to equate features (when vendor specific terminology is used), or how to determine if one feature is more advanced than another. (That was the reason the doctor co-developed Solution Map, to help rate and evaluate technology, which is the one thing most buying organizations can’t do well. Not the things they can do well, and better than most analyst firms, like rate the appropriateness of services to them, assess whether or not the vendor has a culture that will be a good fit, define their business needs and goals, etc.)
But the primary reason doesn’t apply here. So what’s the secondary reason? When an average, overworked, underpaid, and overstressed buyer got their hands on one of these free vendor RFPs, especially when the RFP was thick, heavy, and professionally edited and prepared to look polished and ready for use, and was more detailed than what the buyer could do, they thought they had their answer and could run with it. They thought it was all they needed to know, for now, and that they could send it out, collect the responses, and get back to fire-fighting. They were lulled into a false sense of security.
And that’s why these cheat sheets and KPI guides and former buyer/consultant RFPs are so troubling. When you’ve been struggling without even the basics, and these are so good that they teach you all the basics, and more, it seems like they have all the answers you need and that when you learn those basics, encapsulate them in the tool, and start running your business against them, things will be better. Then you configure your tool to respect the basics, encode the KPIs, and things are better. Significantly better, and for once processes start going smoothly. And then you believe you know everything you need to in that area (that’s not your primary area) to interface with those functions and that those KPIs will be enough to keep you on the Procurement track and let you know if there are any issues to be addressed. And you start operating like that’s the case. But it’s not.
And that’s the problem — these cheat sheet, guides, and templates, which are much better than what you’d get in the past, can make such a drastic difference when you first learn and implement them that they instill a false sense of security. You get complacent with your integrations, reports, and KPI monitors, not recognizing that they only capture and catch what they were encoded to capture and catch. However, real world conditions are constantly changing, the supply base is constantly changing, and external events such as natural disasters, political squabbles, and endemics are coming fast and furious. If the risk metric doesn’t take into account external events, real-time slips in OTD (as it is based on risk profiles upon onboarding, and updates upon contract completion), or past regulatory compliance violations (as an indicator of potential violations in the future), the organization could be blindsided by a disruption the buyer thought the KPI would prevent. Similarly, the wrong cash-flow related KPIS can give a false sense of liquidity and financial security and the wrong inventory metrics can lead to the wrong forecasts in outlier categories (very fast moving, very slow moving, or recently promoted).
In other words, by giving you the answers, without the rationale behind them, or deep insight into how appropriate those answers are to your situation, you will cheat yourself, kid yourself, or, even worse, rip yourself off. And that’s worrisome. So please, please, please remember what these are — learning aids and starting points only — not the end result. (Especially if it’s an RFP template.)