Marketplace Madness is Coming Because History WILL Repeat Itself

Over on LinkedIn, Jon The Revelator asked what 2005 could tell us about Procurement AI in 2024, reminding us that major ERP companies have tried multiple times to move “down market”, there’s (still) no dominant player in the pure “Procurement” sector (with a number of big firms showing up in a slice-of-the-pie analysis (and most analyst market maps), and many names that were around in 2004 are names most of today’s practitioners have never heard of.

And, as part of the conversation (check the comments), Jon asked if history will repeat itself. (i.e. Will many of today’s players disappear? Jon listed a dozen names that are no longer in existence.)

the doctor‘ answer, MOST DEFINITELY!

To be more precise, the doctor is predicting twice the percentage of (fire-sale) acquisitions and out-of-business/shut-downs over the next eighteen (18) months compared to usual. What does this mean numbers wise? He usually removes a few dozen vendors from his database every year (which is about 5% of the number of vendors in the Source-to-Pay+ [S2P+] space, as captured in the Sourcing Innovation Mega-Map), and expects that within eighteen (18) months, he will need to remove a few few dozen vendors from his database, which translates into 10% or more, or a number of vendors that is closer to 100 than 50! That’s significant.

Why? A number of reasons, which include, but are not limited to:

1) A lot of the smaller 1 or 2 module pure-play VC funded companies that took (too much) money before the Silicon Valley Bank failure and are not yet profitable are now in a bad situation given that VC funding is still recessed, PE is now looking for close to 300K/FTE for a “good” investment, and these smaller companies are not there as enterprise Procurement software acquisition for the last two years has been recessed (due to overall market fears of recession), and, in addition to sales being down, buyers have been risk averse and newer / smaller players have, in general, being doing worse than they were doing during COVID (when companies were desperate for solutions that were pure SaaS) and just pre-COVID (when companies were more willing to try smaller plays in what they thought was a globally stable economic environment).

2a) A number of smaller plays were started by consultants with no funding, no real sales team, and no marketing support and they just can’t get traction through the noise (or funding).

2b) A lot of smaller plays were started by Procurement practitioners with little or no funding, the same sales and marketing problems, and a bigger disadvantage because they only know their problems, and maybe the problems of a small peer group they meet with in their local organization’s monthly meet-up, and they don’t know the problems in general, what sells, and what doesn’t. This makes funding for them hard (as smart investors know that Procurement experience alone only goes so far), and sales and marketing harder (they were buyers, not sellers; and they don’t understand that the message they needed to hear is not one that will cut through the noise and reach buyers who aren’t as experienced and enlightened as they are).

And when you start to break down Source-to-Pay+, you find that …

3) There are way too many “tech without a cause AI plays” … with no real, demonstrateable value, and, in reality, no future. (Especially since anyone from the Golden Era remembers that all the rebel without a cause managed to do was get his friend killed.)

4) A lot of the carbon “calculators” offer no new functionality (and thus no new value). Most good DIY (do-it-yourself) spend analytics application providers can help you build one in 15 minutes (no joke! — give Spendata a call, for example). Furthermore, you need good data for them to work, so if you don’t have integrations to good data and systems with better data, what’s the point?

5) Moving on to classic sourcing, every developer and their dog can whip up eRFX functionality in a matter of weeks and there is no differentiation there anymore if you’re just another eRFX. So you have a slightly different take on a UX. Well, guess what, that don’t impress me much … and the doctor ain’t alone in that viewpoint.

6) Moving onto classic CLM, if the platform doesn’t support deep analytics, negotiation support, or something that makes it more than an e-filing cabinet, it’s going, going … gone. Way too many over-glorified document management solutions out there to survive, especially at a price point beyond a few hundred per named user per year (given how many freeware/shareware/end-consumer document platforms exist in the open-source repositories).

7) There’s over one hundred (100) SXM plays. OVER ONE HUNDRED. Given that SXM is a CORNED QUIP mash, and you need different types and depths of solution for organizations of different sizes in different verticals, there’s room for two to three dozen. But one hundred? Forget it! Especially since if all your solution ends up being is a glorified SaaS (relational) database, there’s no value there.

8) While there is a desperate need for analytics, and not enough true analytics players, first generation solutions that are nothing more than pre-generated static (OLAP) reports are about to go the way of the dodo. Real-time, dynamic, customizeable analytics are what’s needed today.

9) Standalone ePro is going to go. Given that there are dozens of P2P solutions, and a growing number of P2P solutions with built-in payment support, why would you want old-school ePro, which doesn’t help the average organizational user or get tail-spend under control.

10) AP without full I2P support, integrated payment support, or integrated P-Card support or value beyond classic AP is also going to go. There are dozens and dozens of these solutions (including dozens that started during COVID because people needed to do business entirely online, and since there appeared to be an opportunity for anyone who didn’t do their research beyond, which is more people than you’d think, see The Biggest Mistake founders in S2P+ keep making after two decades, too many of these were started). The market just doesn’t need that many!

11) Stand-alone Intake(-to)/Orchestrate solutions. The current poster children of the space will soon have a fall from grace (and only the smart will survive)! Call me Scrooge if you like, but there’s a logic behind why I’m developing a bah-humbug attitude towards most of these. And it goes something like this.


  • Pay For View if modern procurement solutions are completely SaaS, then they should be accessible by anyone with a web browser, so why should you have to buy a third party solution to see the data in those applications? wouldn’t it make more sense to just switch to modern source to pay solutions that allow you to give variable levels of access to everyone who needs access instead of paying for two solutions AND an integrator?


  • Solution Sprawl while orchestration is supposed to help with solution sprawl, it’s yet another solution and only adds to it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in and switch to a core sourcing and/or procurement platform with a fully open API where all of the other modules you need can pull the necessary data from and push the necessary data to that platform?


  • Where’s the Beef? Talk to an old Pro who was doing Procurement back before the first modern tools began to be introduced in the late 90’s and they’ll tell you that they don’t get this modern focus on “orchestration” and managing “expenses” and low-value buys because, when they were doing Procurement, it was about identifying and strategically managing multi million (10, 50, 100+) categories where even 2% made a significant improvement to the bottom line, and way more than 10% on a < 100K category.
  • Where’s the Market? This is only a problem in large enterprises — right now, many of these I2O solutions are going after the mid-market who are eating it up because of ease of use, but as soon as they realize the emperor has no clothes, and there’s no support for real strategic procurement (yet alone strategic sourcing) and you have to go out and buy more platforms, what’s going to happen? The reality is that the mid-market is better served by a federated catalog management / punchout platform, and will likely be better served still by a new breed of e-commerce B2B solutions for end-user Procurement (which is being led by providers like BlueBean. Which will only leave the enterprise space, and, more specifically, the enterprise players who are stuck with older generation solutions (due to sunk costs, etc.) that don’t integrate well or have modern bells and wizards.

And so on. The market is over crowded, most of the providers are struggling, funding has dried up for all but the best (who haven’t been overfunded already) [and already profitable with true long-term growth capability], and there’s no room for the rest.

History will repeat, and those who don’t follow best practices and avoid mistakes will be the first to fall.