Five Best Practices for Buyers (when searching for software solutions)

Building on our piece on five easy mistakes source to pay tech buyers can avoid, here’s a piece on five (5) best practices to get the buy right. We’re even throwing in a bonus practice since we dove deep into the critical sixth mistake most tech buyers make in source to pay (who need to realize that No Tech Should Be Forever).

#1 Understand your core pain points

Don’t buy based on hype, buy based on need. Any good salesperson can spin you a good yarn on how much that sourcing solution will save, how that SRM will get your suppliers in line, and how that tail-spend solution will prevent your spend from going into a tail-spin. But there’s no guarantees that any of those solutions will solve your current problems, which might require e-Procurement or Spend Analysis.

Review your source-to-pay processes and determine where your pain points are. Is it in quote collection or analysis? Adequate supplier discovery, identification, or certification? Contract negotiation, implementation, or obligation management? Purchase orders and approvals? Invoice verification and matching? Opportunity identification? Supplier proliferation? If you don’t know where the majority of time is being spent and how much of that time is fighting fires, doing unnecessary tactical work, or taking too long to do something that should be quick, then you’re letting someone else identify your problems, which might turnout to be problems relatively small in the grand scheme of things.

#2 Understand which pain points can be best alleviated with technology vs. those that can be best alleviated with process improvements.

Technology can’t solve all of your ills. (And it especially can’t solve all of your ills if it is based on Automated Idiocy. Remember, that’s what the “AI” they are selling you is.) It’s important that you understand what technology can and can’t do before you look for a solution. This will help you identify honest providers offering honest wares and vapourware vendors selling silicon snake oil.

Consider the above pain points. If it’s quote collection, a good RFP system will help. If it’s quote analysis, maybe, maybe not. It may be the complexity of the ask, and not the complexity of the process, that’s the problem. If it’s supplier discovery, you will likely need a discovery platform or a large supplier network; if it’s supplier identification, possibly just a better process of identifying which suppliers you’re already using who can solve a new problem for you. Supplier certification, that requires manual review and sometimes tech can’t help at all. When it comes to contract negotiation, while platforms can shuttle contract drafts back and forth, negotiation is between people. Implementation and obligation management, that’s the kicker, and more than what you can accomplish with just an electronic filing cabinet, which is what many “contract management” systems are. Purchase orders are as much a process problem as a technology problem, most AP systems can generate them. Approvals, process problem to identify it, but often a technology problem to ensure that the process is followed. Invoice verification — manual approval is required but m-way invoice matching can help with the process by identifying the corresponding purchase order, any payments made to date, any credits accrued to date, any approvals required, and so on. Opportunity identification? Well, all of the pain points you identified represent opportunities, but beyond that, you’ll likely need spend analysis. Supplier proliferation — that’s a process and management issue. All the SRM does is track the suppliers.

If you don’t understand what the pain points are that tech can actually solve, you’ll never select the right tech.

#3 Identify your top 3 pain points that can be addressed with technology and the corresponding source-to-pay module(s) you need to address those pain points.

Once you’ve identified the pain points, whittled down to the subset of pain points that can be best addressed by technology, and then identified the three (3) that will have the biggest impact if addressed, you can continue with your quest for tech.

#4 Compile an appropriate shortlist of vendors.

Once you know what you want to address with tech, and why, you can start the process of identifying an appropriate short-list of vendors. This is not just three to five vendor names given to you, or three to five vendor names that come up first in a Google search — it’s three to five vendors that are confirmed to offer a module that will address the same (sub)set of problems you are looking to address.

This is not three to five vendors that claim to offer the same technology, as many vendors will purposely use, and sometimes abuse, the same terminology in an effort to sell completely different products. For example, sourcing, procurement, and purchasing are sometimes used to mean the same thing by three vendors, and sometimes mean completely different things by three vendors. There are vendors that call their sourcing systems procurement, purchasing vendors which just offer catalogs, and so on. You have to research their offerings carefully to determine whether or not they truly offer a solution to what you are looking for.

#5 Determine what you need in a partner before you start evaluating vendors and the RFPs they submit.

You don’t just need a vendor that can provide technology, you need a vendor that can provide a solution and work with you, offering as little or as much as you need in the way of training, implementation, integration, and services. You need a venture that will match your culture, get along with your team and make sure you are successful with their product. You need to identify everything that makes a good vendor before you start the evaluation, otherwise you will grade just on the tech, and the tech is not enough. (It’s a necessary part of the solution, but not a sufficient part on its own.) All supply chain problems have a human element. Never forget that.

#6: Bonus Get help with the shortlist and the RFP.

If you’re not familiar with the technology, the vendors, or the terminology, it can be difficult to determine which vendors might actually be able to solve your problems and what vendors will just bamboozle you into thinking they can* when you send them the RFP. Get help from someone who is an expert in the technology, the vendors, and the true capabilities the vendors offer.

* Not necessarily on purpose; a misunderstanding caused by different usages of terminology (see point #4) can cause a vendor to believe they have the perfect solution for you.