Category Archives: RFX

The UX One Should Expect from Best-in-Class e-Sourcing, Part II

Yesterday, as we continued our series on what makes a good UIX (which followed our posts on Smart Systems and Mission Control Dashboards), we went from generic Source-to-Pay system wide requirements to specific e-Negotiation, specifically e-RFX and e-Auction, requirements.

Specifically, in yesterday’s post, we noted that creating an RFX or Auction from scratch is a lot of work. From defining the need through selecting the suppliers through evaluating the responses to making an award, an average event typically consists of at least a dozen (or more) steps, each of which are arduous and time-consuming. That’s why the first core requirement we focussed on in yesterday’s post was easy template creation as a great template can jump start event creation, initiation, and execution over and over again (especially if it is work-flow enabled and driven by an underlying smart system).

But that’s just one core requirement. Another, as we dove deep into our follow up piece on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality (Part 2) over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], is easy starting bid population and validation. If there are a lot of products that need to be bid on, or a lot of bid fields that need to be filled out, and the data, or most of it, is already available in the system, or a connected system, it should be pre-populated for the supplier so that all the supplier has to do is make updates. This will not only decrease turn-around time, but potentially increase participation. If the event is run every six months, the buyer could pre-populate with the supplier’s previous bids or allow the supplier to pre-populate with their previous bids plus or minus a mark-up/mark-down and if an auction was preceded with a qualifying RFX, the starting bids can be automatically loaded. Either way, not pre-populating (or given the supplier the option to pre-populate) from existing data just doesn’t make sense.

And neither does not validating to the extent of data available. Bids can be compared to market rates and tolerances and suppliers or buyers alerted if the bids are outside of expected ranges and bids can be compared against each other and alerts given if a bid is detected to be an outlier which is off more than one deviation from the average, even if market data is available and it is within a normal tolerance. The bid might be right, and that’s okay, but buyers and suppliers still need to be alerted because erroneous bids lead to wrong awards (especially in optimization-backed events) and a lot of bad feelings in negotiations, especially if one side expects the other to live up to the bid.

These aren’t the only requirements for a great user experience, but they are additional core requirements that no modern platform should be without. For a deeper dive into this requirement as well as other core requirements, see the doctor and the prophet‘s piece on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality (Part 2) over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required]. When combined with the rest of our series, it’s the best definition of what a modern e-Negotiation platform should contain that you’re going to find.

The UX One Should Expect from Best-in-Class e-Sourcing, Part I

As we continue our series on what makes a good UIX (to follow our posts on Smart Systems and Mission Control Dashboards), we go from generic Source-to-Pay system wide requirements to specific e-Negotiation, specifically e-RFX and e-Auction, requirements.

As the co-authors of this series, the doctor and the prophet, laid bare in our next deep dive on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required], creating an RFX or Auction from scratch is a lot of work. A lot of work. At a minimum:


  • Define the basic need that consists of products, services or bill of materials

  • Define the requirements for those products

  • Define the requirements for doing business with the organization

  • Define the information needed from the suppliers

  • Select (or define) the suppliers

  • Select (or define) the contacts

  • Set up the timeline (and milestones)

  • Send out the RFX invitations or launch the Auction

  • Receive responses back

  • Verify completeness and correctness

  • Evaluate, collaborate with teammates

  • Make an award

If all of this has to be done, from scratch, for every RFX or Auction, very few will get done. Considering that real benefits from these platforms only materialize if a lot get done, obviously this has to be as quick and easy to do as possible — and the platform will, thus, only have a good U(I)X if it is as quick and easy to do as possible.

So, what are the core requirements? Many, but in this post, we’re only going to focus on one of the core requirements — easy template creation. Given that the basic needs for a category don’t change much from event to event, the supply base doesn’t change much from event to event, the business and insurance requirements don’t change much from event to event, and so on. Thus, the ability to quickly and easily define templates that can be used over and over again is key. What should this template creation look like? Check out the doctor and the prophet‘s latest piece on What You Should Expect from Best-in-Class E-Sourcing User Experience and Functionality over on Spend Matters Pro [membership required]. (Vendors, this is the best description you’re ever going to get.)

Strategic Sourcing Requires Strategic Suppliers Selected Through Strategic Sourcing Events

And this will generally mean you have to deal with a lot of pushback from those individuals in the company that don’t want to deal with anyone but their preferred supplier (which can be due to bias, laziness, or, in some cases, legal bribes). There will be a lot of reasons given, of various levels of validity, but you will need to bust through them all. To help, here are the standard categories of push-back and how you tackle them.

Our Process is Approved Suppliers Only

This is usually the first response because the individual knows the new supplier approval process is typically an onerous one and not one anyone typically wants to deal with and, thus, has a great chance of working (on anyone except a dedicated buyer). However, a response of “we know, that’s why we’re going to do a multi-round qualification RFI first and we simply need your input on the core requirements so we can get the right suppliers approved” will typically do the trick with this one. Of course, the stakeholder who wants the same (set of) supplier(s) will just move onto the next excuse, but you need to take ‘em one by one.

The Supplier Couldn’t Meet our Requirements Last Time

If the supplier was invited, or even considered before, and the conclusion was the price was too high, the product unsuitable, or the overall capability to meet total organizational demand insufficient, the stakeholder might like to use past performance to simply deny the supplier again, even if it’s been two or three years and the supplier might have improved (due to a lean effort they mentioned they were starting last time, new equipment and processes, or other factors). Plus, this doesn’t consider the fact that the supplier (if there were cultural/language barriers) might not have appropriately understood the requirements and put the wrong foot forward.

The answer here is “we understand, but the supplier has been doing X plus we are going to force them to go through the pre-qualification RFI that all new suppliers are going through to make sure they are actually capable of performing better this time before inviting a bid from them“. This will elicit a “grumble, grumble”, but you will be able to press on.

The Cultural / Language Barriers are Too High

Cultural and language barriers are often high, especially if you are going to new countries, but if both parties want to succeed and are willing to work together to succeed, they are not insurmountable, as long as both sides make the effort. You can’t just through a spec in English over the wall and say “you translate and give us your best effort on your own” and expect great results. You need to engage one or more product/service experts who are bilingual (or even trilingual) in the native language(s) (and who has some cultural understanding) for each geography you want to do business in.

This effort will go a long way into getting new suppliers in different geographies who speak different languages to put their best foot forward. The best suppliers will appreciate and reciprocate your efforts and put their best effort into their proposals and might even surprise you. The answer here is “we know, and that’s why we’ve engaged these individuals to be our interpreters and relationship managers — it might not work, but if it does, it could open us up to a whole new array of cost-control and innovation capabilities“.

We Don’t Have the Bandwidth

Once you get through the knee-jerk responses above, a belligerent stakeholder who really wants that preferred supplier will resort to rationalizing that there just isn’t the time to evaluate too many suppliers or re-create all the requirements in a supplier-neutral fashion. This will be hard to dismiss, as chances are the stakeholder doesn’t have the bandwidth and you will need some input from that stakeholder. This is where your negotiation and reasoning skills will be put to the test.

You will need to start by indicating we know you don’t, that’s why we in Procurement are taking on the majority of the workload — all we need is your input and expertise and review before each key document goes out. We realize that there might be some extra work for you, but if this works, we will help you identify new sources of supply (which will increase stability in the event of a disruption or customer demand surge), potentially new sources of innovation, and keep your costs — and your budget, under control. And if it ends up that the best choice is the current supplier, at what appears to be higher than market average costs, you will be able to say in confidence that you made the right choice with all of our efforts to back you up next time the C-Suite decides someone budget needs to be cut. You’ll have hard data while your counterparts, who chose not to work with us, won’t. And since the CFO says all arguments must be data driven … .

In other words, while you might feel the urge to thump out the stupidity, if you take a rational approach, use your negotiating skills, and demonstrate that you are going to take on as much of the extra work as you can, with time, you will be able to convince most of the stakeholders that your way is the right way. (And we say most because if the incumbent supplier is paying for the stakeholders yearly Hawaiian vacation in exchange for a single “talk” at their user event, well, there’s no way you can counter that as it’s completely unethical to source for the best favours. But, fortunately, this will be a very small majority of stakeholders.)

On the Tenth day of X-Mas (2016)


On the tenth day of X-Mas
my blogger gave to me:
Standard Sourcing Posts
Direct Sourcing Posts
Risk Management Posts
Sustainable Posts
e-Procurement Posts
some SRM Posts
some CLM Posts
some Best Practice Posts
some Trend Bashing Posts
and some ranting on stupidity …

Yesterday we focused in on direct sourcing because most platforms, designed for indirect, weren’t up to snuff for direct sourcing and that needed to be pointed out before we launched into a more general discussion and review of (the best posts on) traditional strategic sourcing.

We’re going to start to explain it’s importance by pointing out that If One Wants to Avoid Cost, Then One Should Avoid Cost At All Costs! This is something most organizations don’t do.

When you realize this and go to market for a proper platform (upon which you can find much advice in the archives), remember that
SI Has Been Telling You Solution Provider RFX Templates SUCK for Years!
Solution Provider RFX Templates SUCK! What Do You Do?
So, Do You Throw Provider RFX Templates Out with the Packaging?

This is true whether they are templates to acquire a solution or acquire the products and services that you need to function as a business.

Then, when you get that platform, remember that
If You Are Going to Create RFPs, Avoid RFP Hell!

After all, you already have to contend with
Eight Reasons Best-in-Class Suppliers are Ignoring Your RFP
why give them more reasons to?

But don’t just switch your events over to e-Auctions, because it’s
Time to Remove e-Auctions from the Strategic Sourcing Toolkit.

There is a host of reasons for doing so. One reason is that
Bidding Flexibility is Important to e-Auction Success
but most e-Auction platforms don’t give you bidding flexibility.

Instead, what you get are
The Entanglements of e-Auctions.

In other words, before you put your faith in e-Auctions, ask yourself:
e-Auctions — Savings Machine or Inflation Nightmare?

Come back tomorrow for the eleventh day of X-Mas.

ScoutRFP – Spreading their Silicon Sunlight from the Western Shore

When we last covered
ScoutRFP back in 2014, they were hoping to help laggard Procurement organizations leave the dark ages (Part I and Part II) and enter the modern age. Launching with nothing more than an easy RFP solution (which was a 15 year old solution at the time), ScoutRFP has taken off like a rocket in those organizations that needed an easy, lightweight, solution for everyday events with a price tag they could afford.

The RFP solution was, and still is, 100% SaaS and designed to work with minimal inputs. It guided the user through a minimal workflow to create the RFX, select the suppliers, evaluate the responses, and make a decision. It was very flexible, allowing the user to create the RFX to the level of detail they wanted, or keep it high level (and cut and paste the instructions and questions from Word). And it gave the organization visibility into, and some control of, spend. The CPO could define a hierarchy and see what everyone was doing, the directors could see what their teams were doing, and the buyers would see their events — and all the reports could roll up as well. It was simple, but it hit the suite spot of low complexity and low price for organizations trying to crawl out of the unlit Procurement dungeons.

It was such a hit that, based on this capability and reception alone, ScoutRFP was able to secure $2.75M of funding in 2015 (from NEA, Zapis Capital, and Google Ventures) to extend the platform and raise an additional $9M of funding this summer in a series A funding round. And move west (to San Francisco).

Since then, ScoutRFP has added basic e-Auction capability, project management and savings tracking, Supplier Information Management, and an improved Supplier Portal.

The platform now has the ability to track all requested, current, and upcoming sourcing events and their associated status; categorize the events using any desired organizational categorization scheme; quickly initiate new events (RFX or Auction) from the pipeline; and even auto-include re-sourcing events when contracts are set to expire. Requested events can come from any organizational stakeholder with budget or spending authority, and all spend can be placed under (minimal) management.

In addition to this new project management capability, the savings tracking capability can sum up all savings for a period of interest, in real-time, based upon (negotiated) price differentials and (expected/purchased) volumes, or savings numbers (to date) provided by appropriate Procurement or AP reps. The data is tracked in a drillable fashion and a manager can quickly see how the totals compare across categories, departments, and employees. This allows the manager to ensure that high-value categories get sourced first and that buyers who aren’t delivering value get training (or replaced).

The SIM functionality is basic. It allows the organization to track all supplier information of interest, tag the suppliers with key-phrases of interest (for quick selection by category capability, geography, performance, etc.), and build lists for quick selection in sourcing events. There’s no scorecarding or performance monitoring, but it can be used as a supplier master and it’s easy to get data in as supplier data can be loaded from existing platforms, and updated data can be pushed back out to existing platforms, using the API. And the platform makes it easy to track supplier activity — events they participated in, questions they asked, bids they made, and so on.

In the current version of the platform, suppliers can have their own portal where all of the bids they have been invited to by all of their customers are accessible through a single log in, or, if the supplier prefers [or customer(s) demand(s)], they can have a separate portal for each customer. The suppliers also have the same collaboration features available to the buyers and can invite their peers to collaborate on bids and survey responses.

The system is shaping up nicely and for an in-depth dive on ScoutRFP, and the platform, including its strenghts and weaknesses, see the recent Pro series [membership required] over on Spend Matters (Part I, Part II, and Part III) [membership required] by the doctor and the prophet.