Category Archives: Kevin Brooks

Far from the Twittering Crowd

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Editor’s Note: This is Kevin Brooks‘ first post as a regular contributor to Sourcing Innovation. His previous guest posts are still archived.) Kevin is an experienced marketer in the sourcing and procurement space who was an early visionary where blogging, green supply chain, and web 2.0 is concerned.

Twitter is everywhere these days, and some might be wondering whether this new communication frenzy holds any significance for spend managers. The hype is extreme and no doubt baffling to buttoned-down, serious procurement types. However, beware of dismissing it too quickly.

Twitter is significant for spend management in companies of all sizes because …

Communication Styles are A-Changin’

I was recently at a panel discussion about the future of print media. Robert Scoble, the well-known blogger and technologist noted that his young son will likely never pick up a newspaper in his life. Similarly, there is growing evidence that the younger generation views email — a 40-year old technology, mind you — as dated and irrelevant, preferring more free-form communication styles such as texting, instant messaging and Facebook status updates.

Print — and email — will be around in some form for a long time to come, but their significance and dominance is changing as new and faster ways to communicate move closer to the mainstream. This has major implications for spend management activities such as supplier discovery and assessment, contract negotiation, performance management, and even invoicing and settlement.

Unfortunately, new ways to communicate are often ridiculed or considered irrelevant by the status quo business software establishment. Not so on the consumer applications side, where bleeding edge software such as Google Wave (an intriguing, all-encompassing communications idea), mobile devices like the iPhone and the Kindle and open source blogging platforms such as WordPress are redefining communications for the younger generation. Keep in mind, these are your future employees, suppliers and consumers.

Speed is More Important Than You Realize

Fast is good. Fast is usually less expensive (which is good). Fast is increasingly what your customers, your colleagues, your CEO and your shareholders expect. Industry leaders like FedEx built their success on speed and efficiency. So did the semiconductor industry. So did the auto industry (once upon a time).

Twitter moves quickly — all those “tweets” flying by in real time can be dizzying. Rather than trying to read every “tweet” like you would email, why not consider Twitter like you would a busy stock trading floor. The trends matter more than the individual transactions. When viewed through a spend management lens, tracking “tweet” trends on key topics or suppliers can give you a unique, real-time view of the market. Free Twitter aggregators such as TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop are two of the more popular tools that support keyword or tag-specific tracking. Admittedly, the view is rather murky and confusing today, but it isn’t a big stretch to imagine more clarity on the near horizon.

The real-time speed of Twitter and its seemingly unstoppable growth will indirectly put pressure on business processes and communications to move faster. That is a terrifying thought to some, and a golden opportunity to others.

Transparency is the New Normal

Transparency in procurement is a controversial subject. In fact, my friend Tim Minahan recently touched on this over on Supply Excellence:

“… online negotiations — what some still refer to as e-sourcing — actually brings much needed discipline and transparency to buyer-seller negotiations.”

Twitter, like blogs and all manner of social networking, is open to the world. Yes, you can send private “tweets” and have an email-like Twitter conversation if you wish, but the model is based on visibility and on Web 2.0 concepts such as the wisdom of crowds. In our new regulatory era, and at a time when nearly a quarter of the U.S. population has no problem posting information about themselves on Facebook or LinkedIn, business communications will inevitably absorb some of the more useful attributes of open models like Twitter.

What all of this bodes for the future is anyone’s guess. I think it is doubtful that Twitter will change the way we live, as Time Magazine so hyperbolically put it in their recent cover story, but I do think it is symptomatic of some larger trends that sourcing and procurement teams — and the vendors that provide solutions for them — shouldn’t ignore.

Kevin Brooks

Editor’s Note: Views of contributors are entirely their own.

The Top Three V: Learning to Communicate

As indicated in my last post, here is Kevin Brooks contribution to the Top Three. He takes a different spin, focussed on internal communication, but it is valuable insight nonetheless.

3 Ways To Get Buy-In

As a marketing guy, you’re required to be something of a corporate voyeur in
order to put your finger on the real pain facing your customers. In darkened
rooms, behind one-way glass partitions, I’ve watched focus group after focus
group of procurement executives complain about how they can’t get buy-in
from their organizations. “We communicate all the time, but it doesn’t seem
to make any difference!” I recall one harried CPO of a multi-billion dollar
company telling his nodding colleagues around the table.

While I’m sure every corporate function shares this perspective from time to
time, procurement teams seem uniquely saddled with difficulties making
themselves understood to their organizations. So, in the spirit of this
blogathon, I’d like to offer three rules that can help the struggling
procurement executive communicate more effectively.

Rule #1: Listen To Your Audience

You may think you’re simply putting out information, but your audience views
things differently. The best communications start with listening, and an
understanding that you’re always engaged in a dialogue – not a monologue —
with your audience.

There are formal and informal ways of listening to your audience. The
easiest is to simply talk with them. How do people like to receive
information? What format is best for them – email, snail mail, voicemail,
instant messaging, carrier pigeon? What makes them read or listen to
something now versus saving it for later? What kinds of messages do they
ignore completely? Why?

Do this regularly, and make adjustments to your approach based on what you
hear. Basically, just give your audience the same attention you’d give an
important supplier, and the simple fact that you took the time to ask them
their opinions will cause your next email or presentation to be “heard”
louder and clearer.

Rule #2: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

It would seem logical to put out information that builds on what you’ve said
before. If last week you talked about the new travel spend policy, there’s
no need to rehash that old news when you want to let people know about the
new p-cards, right? Wrong.

It has been said that on average it takes people 6-9 times to receive
information before they “get” it. One email, or a single team presentation
won’t cut it. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Even when you’re sick to death of
telling people about the travel spend policy, grit your teeth and keep
mentioning it. It takes discipline, sure, but if you want to get a message
across, this is how you do it. There are no shortcuts.

Rule #3: Keep It Simple

This rule is tough, especially if your organization is filled with
detail-oriented gurus from the Pierre Mitchell school of PowerPoint. And, to
give them their due, complexity surrounds us in the business world and you
would think people could deal with a few extra bullet points or paragraphs
here and there.

Sorry, but they can’t. Your audience isn’t illiterate, but they are busy and
distracted professionals. If you can’t make your point efficiently, they
tune out. It is far better to get one message across clearly, than to get 10
messages across muddled.

Keep things simple by limiting your message to one idea per communication.
And remember: shorter is always better.


So there you have it. Three simple rules that can improve your
communications and help you gain buy-in for procurement across the

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
  3. Less Is More

Good luck!

P.S. Jon Miller’s post on Lean Sourcing: The Top Three is up now as well!

The Sourcing Innovation Series: Part VIII

Yesterday, Charles Dominick of jumped in with an initial post on Sourcing Innovation for Single-Customer Contracts on his Purchasing Certification Blog where he offered his insights on the affect of the forthcoming innovation on purchasing professionals and the skill sets required for the future. For more details on the post, and my thoughts on it, check back Sunday.

Today I’d like to welcome Kevin Brooks of Apexon who has been kind enough to provide us with his commentary on the Future of Sourcing. Note that Kevin was also kind enough to provide his insight on Supplier Performance Management in response to one of my weekend series over on eSourcing Forum.

My take on the topic is a bit more abstract. In particular, I suspect that innovation in sourcing will trend toward doing less rather than doing more.

When I look at other industries, I notice that innovation seems to move along a path that makes things easier and simpler for end users even if there is tremendous sophistication under the hood. (Microsoft Windows might be an exception to this rule!) I don’t need McKinsey slide decks to convince me that true strategic sourcing is complex, but the same thing could have once been said about any number of things that are now commonplace. Driving across the country. Getting a knee replacement. Online banking.

I suspect that the tools to enable sourcing will move toward simplifying a complex process, and put the capability in the hands of a much wider group. Sourcing will become a standard business skill set you’d expect from any decent business school graduate. At the same time, more of the responsibility for delivering against expectations will fall on the heads of suppliers themselves, or their proxies (as in the case of contract manufacturing or outsourcing).

Obviously, big strides need to be made in sourcing technology and in clearing the pesky master data management briar patch. And I’m sure there are a few innovative strategies yet to be discovered – Jason’s global capacity marketplace, for example — but they don’t affect the ultimate trend line. In the end, I suspect successful companies will tend to prioritize customer sales and service over internal operations or supply sophistication. Yes, the two are connected, but not in the eyes of most CEOs or even the customers themselves. The less time and effort a company puts into sourcing, the more they put into customers. Ergo, sourcing innovation will trend toward doing less, not more.

Thanks Kevin! I look forward to future guest posts from you!